The witches of Eastwick

by John Updike

Hardcover, 1984





New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1984.


Based in the fictional Rhode Island town of Eastwick in the late '60s, this novel follows the witches Alexandra Spofford, Jane Smart, and Sukie Rougemont who acquire their powers after leaving or being left by their husbands.

Media reviews

Mr. Updike takes ''sisterhood is powerful'' at its word and imagines it literally. What if sisterhood really is powerful? What will the sisters use their ''powers'' for? And what - given human nature, of which Mr. Updike takes not too bright a view - what then? Luckily these witches are only interested in the ''personal,'' rather than the ''political''; otherwise they might have done something unfrivolous, like inventing the hydrogen bomb.... ''The Witches of Eastwick'' is an excursion rather than a destination. Like its characters, it indulges in metamorphoses, reading at one moment like Kierkegaard, at the next like Swift's ''Modest Proposal,'' and at the next like Archie comics, with some John Keats thrown in. This quirkiness is part of its charm, for, despite everything, charming it is. As for the witches themselves, there's a strong suggestion that they are products of Eastwick's - read America's - own fantasy life.

User reviews

LibraryThing member gazzy
Three witches in modern New England are courted by the devil disguised as a man.
LibraryThing member iammbb
Since I really enjoyed the movie version of Witches of Eastwick, I decided to read Widows of Eastwick. But I couldn't read Widows of Eastwick without having read Witches of Eastwick first.

The book and movie are vastly dissimilar. That I found this surprising is surprising. I mean, I've read enough books after seeing the movie adaptations to be well acquainted with the fact that the book and the movie are often vastly dissimilar. But I was surprised.

What I also found surprising is how intriguing I found Updike's prose. I read novels for plot. I skim the extraneous details, the superfluous descriptions. If it doesn't move the plot forward, it doesn't hold my attention.

And yet, Updike's prose grabbed me in spite of myself. Yes, even the ridiculously lengthy recitation of Jane's middle of the night cello concert kept me, if not engrossed, at least paying attention.

I enjoyed the story told by the movie better, especially the end but on a more superficial level. I found the book's story deeper, more conflicted, more unapologetic about its main characters' amorality.

Now, on to the Widows . . .
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LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
Reading about small-town WASP New England is like reading science fiction for me. I've spent my life in large cities in the South & on the West Coast with the exception of 3 and a half years in Little Rock, Arkansas which isn't exactly Southern, but certainly isn't New England, either. Arkansas is its own thing & Little Rock is still another thing (kind of like Texas & Austin).

Given my background, the environment of The Witches of Eastwick is pretty exotic. I've never been to Rhode Island & have always suspected that it (along with Delaware & Iowa) might very well be fictional places that lots of people talk about, write about, & make movies about, but that no one's really ever lived in. From what I know of Rhode Island & its history, it's frequently been a haven for free thinking (see also, Anne Hutchinson) so it makes sense that a small town there might harbor a trio of witches. I also know from a story on NPR that Rhode Island's full name is Rhode Island & Providence Plantations, but that's as far as the trivia goes.

Reading this book was an odd experience. I was unable to find a way to like or relate to a single character in this novel so it was slow going, but at the same time I was propelled forward because some of his writing is so breathtaking - whole paragraphs or single sentences where I stopped & re-read & thought to myself, "Wow, that is a gorgeous piece of writing."

I am well aware of the feminist criticism of John Updike as a misogynist & he lives up to his reputation in this book, but I think it's more complex than that because I don't think he likes men much, either.

The interesting thing to me about this novel is the way that each of these characters represent something very real in the middle of the somewhat surreal atmosphere they are in. Yes, Virginia, some women are driven by petty lusts & use their power to no greater purpose than finding a man. & yes, Virginia, some men are so filled with contempt for themselves, their lives & for others that they are tragic in their self-pity (or perhaps just need to be smacked around for whining). It's an interesting choice, to play these archetypes off against the background of magic & devils, but it doesn't make for likable characters.

I'm not sure that any author is required to only write well-rounded, well-adjusted, likable men & women fully realized & actualized in an politically enlightened kind of way. I'm also not sure that authors are required to create characters that everyone can like. At the same time, it makes the reading more pleasant if there's someone you can like, but again is the purpose of all writing to create a pleasant experience for the reader? Probably not.

I finished this a few days ago & have been thinking about what I thought about it ever since. It's actually been very meaty in that way - I've had to ruminate & roll the book & the writing around in my head in a way that you don't often get to do unless the writing is very good. In the end this isn't a book I enjoyed, but it definitely made me think.
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LibraryThing member drbubbles
This book ends less happily than the movie; in fact, the book and the movie go in very different directions after a certain event.

What I will mainly remember about this book is its unsympathetic treatment of the main characters, who are all women. It is not that the characters are inherently dislikable, though some become dislikable in the course of the story (while others do not, or do so to a lesser degree). It is that the writing is, somehow, disparaging towards them; regardless of what about them is being described, the words and sentences suggest an air of foolishness or absurdity or ridiculousness. (The men don't escape unscathed, but they aren't developed nearly as much, either.) Literary archetypes of women (virgin, whore, bitch, &c.) are strongly invoked, but the overall effect is to create caricatures of those archetypes rather than to provide any serious insight into Woman or women. About the only affirmative aspect of the main characters' portrayal is their strength of character: though the unpleasantnesses in their characters vitiate that to a greater or lesser extent. In a sort of a inversion, it seems that the men characters are weak and merely responsive, whereas almost all of the women characters (main or not) are quite strong and self-willed, but this does not redound to their credit.

In a similar connection, the other thing I am likely to remember is the sex. It's not a pornographic book, but sex is one of (if not the) main motifs. The writing about sex-the-act, about characters' attitudes towards sex, about characters' own sexuality, and about the sexual relations between characters all, to me, sound very 1970s, which is perfectly understandable given the date of publication. In this respect it has a sort of anthropological or historical interest, at least to one who didn't experience 1970s sexual environment first-hand. In another respect, though, given the emphasis on women characters, the prominence of sex is unsurprising but trite, and contributes to the general air of disrespect towards the characters.

What I still, for the moment, remember about this book was its interesting rendering of witchcraft, which is mostly implied through concrete, witchy actions, but there are enough to draw some conclusions about the witchcraft generally.

Overall, the book seems mainly to be a character study. The plot is quite simple, and seems to exist mainly to provide situations around which the characters can be developed. The tone reminds me somewhat of Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.
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LibraryThing member willowcove
While I love the movie, the book has more of a malicious element, and is way better than the movie.
LibraryThing member booksandbosox
I couldn't even tell you why I finished this book. Morbid curiosity? Or do I just hate to quit? I could not stand this book. Boring, despite the graphic and unnecessary sex. Don't call them chapters when they're hundreds of pages long - call them parts please. Overuse of the same words, and I'm pretty sure Updike just loves listening to himself. Most of this book was unnecessary to tell the story, which ended up being incredibly uninteresting anyway. Regret that I finished it.… (more)
LibraryThing member michrym
Rather long worded in places. Takes half a page to say an idea. Good to re-read after 20 years.
LibraryThing member alana_leigh
My book club settled upon reading this book this morning... and then later in the day, we heard that John Updike had passed away.

Finished this last night and while I know I didn't love it, I must admit that the writing was exquisite and the plot certainly made me think, and I imagine I shall keep thinking about it for some time.

A brief summary: The Witches of Eastwick unsurprisingly focuses on three witches who live in the fictional Rhode Island town of Eastwick during the late 1960s. Magic witchy power is established as the result of leaving or being left by a man, and so our three divorced women have formed their cozy coven, where chief activities seem to be drinking and discussing the other people in the small town of Eastwick (particularly the married men they sleep with). While the witches themselves seem to help create a good amount of the town's gossip, the real show starts when the dilapidated mansion on the edge of town is purchased by a devilish single man named Darryl Van Horne. A mysterious scientist and collector of tacky art, the women are quickly drawn into a foursome with this fellow, assembling to play tennis and enjoy orgies in his hot tub. But after a shocking event in town that occurs midway through the book, things can't possibly stay the same.

Whenever I read a male author writing about an intimate circle of women (or vice versa, I imagine), I tend to pause and consider if it all rings true. I suppose the thing that surprised me most was that I did fine Updike to be fairly accurate with his women (treating them perhaps more as human beings rather than women), but once in a while, there was a false note or a simplistic detail that didn't quite feel right. But overall, that was my only true critique of the writing itself.

In various reviews, I have heard this book declared to be misogynistic. Now... I'm not entirely sure that I agree with the accusation, but I do find a few things to be interesting on that topic of the male/female dynamic/power struggle. For instance... The insertion of this male figure into a circle of women as a plot point. At first, I assumed he might have magic powers, thus making him more a warlock in command of a coven (after all, he seemed to be a scientific genius and a musical prodigy, as well as quite cold to the touch), but he turned out to be impotent in that manner of speaking... Just a devil genius who wasn't so very devilish as simply debauched (which is perhaps fitting for a lesser demon who isn't even so strong as to really wreak true havoc). The three women become completely wrapped up in his existence, bending themselves to fit his needs and yield to his requests -- he even starts to direct their creative energies (for example, Alexandra, a sculptress, abandons the small figurines she had previously done at his suggestion that she work in a larger medium, only to end up discouraged). While their relationships prove interesting (both as a larger group and as individuals played off of each other), Darryl ultimately isn't as interesting a figure on his own so much as he's interesting for the effect he produces on those around him.

Another notch against Updike in terms of a misogynist accusation is the ending (which I shall not explicitly state here). Sure, we have ladies who appear rather unhappy or at least unsatisfied throughout the course of the novel, but I find it hard to believe that things could turn out so tidily after the three join together to cast a spell that intends to bring death to another character. I wasn't exactly expecting equal comeuppance or anything, or even punishment for their actions, but it seemed a little too neat in how we backed away from what appears to be happy endings all around.

To the idea of magic... I have a small problem with the initial idea that a woman's powers only manifest themselves as a result of a man -- being left or leaving. It seems to be a somewhat male concept that magic would only come from this particular relationship break. He kept rather close to certain ideas of witchery, but it seemed a very fluid thing in the novel that popped up when it was convenient or amusing. One thing I did like, as it pertains to witchcraft, is that oftentimes, the magic was used for rather selfish little things. Now... I think that some more good natured magic could have been injected (we got a good look at squirrel-killing and such), but it's an interesting concept that, since magic became part of their existence like anything else, there wasn't a particular devotion to only using powers for good or evil. It helps, I suppose, that it wasn't as though they were incredibly powerful. Alexandra creates a rainstorm to clear a beach so her dog can run. Sukie turns milk to cream for her coffee. Jane seemed somewhat disappointingly ordinary as a witch when it turned out she could fly.

In any case, clearly you can tell from my half-formed thoughts that this was an interesting novel and I'm quite looking forward to my book club's discussion of it. I've been told that this is not a characteristic Updike novel, but as long as his writing is of such a quality elsewhere, I shall certainly be reading more of his work in the future.
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LibraryThing member susanbevans
Despite the fact that The Witches of Eastwick is the story of three of the most irredeemable women I've ever read about, it is a wonderfully imaginative book full of sharp wit and snark-tastic satire. Updike is a master of the elements of good literature, giving the reader a plot and setting rich in detail and powerful in design. In reading The Witches of Eastwick, I was transported to Eastwick, Rhode Island in the 60s. I could see and feel everything as if the action were taking place in front of my very eyes. John Updike put a spell on me!

What a treat for my final read and book review of 2009! I had a delicious and enchanting time reading The Witches of Eastwick, and I recommend that you go pick it up - immediately... if not sooner! This was my first foray into the compelling world of John Updike literature, and I am happy to say it won't be my last.
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LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Last year, I read The widows of Eastwick by the same author, which I found extremely disappointing. That book seemed "written for the money", unreal and totally uninteresting. Fortunately, "the witches" is a very warm, and beautifully written book. Updike's skills in writing radiates from every page.

I had some difficulty with the discrepancy between the novel itself and the blurb texts and drum beating around the novel. While the male protagonist, Darryl Von Horne, does seem a mysterious character, it would seem a bit too overworked to assume that he is the devil. Also the magic displayed by the women is far-fetched. For some reason professional reviewers seem to want to push this approach to the reading and understanding of the novel. However, the novel can just as easily be read as a lustful romance. Entertaining, but not in any way outstanding.… (more)
LibraryThing member mdomsky
Set during the Vietnam War, this story takes place in a small town called Eastwick. Three devorcee's, Alexandra, Sukie, and Jane, have discovered that they have the ability to change the world around them. They live an alternative lifestyle in their small town as single mothers, witches, and lovers to the mostly married men who live there. When a loud, rich, and unusual man moves into a mansion on the edge of town, it changes the lives of the three witches.

Full of artsy, rambling prose and odd, questionable character development, I was a little bored by this book. Seeing inside all the different characters was interesting, but but by the end, I disliked some of the characters, and hated the rest of them. There was no reason for the book to be that long either. But it's by a classic writer.
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LibraryThing member AshRyan
At first, this book seems like something different from Updike, with its female leads and its fantastic element of witchcraft. But it soon becomes apparent that it is the usual story about the affairs of unpleasant, middle-aged narcissists in small-town New England...but the women in question are even more unsympathetic than most of his characters, going so far as to commit murder for the thinnest reason of petty jealousy, and suffering no real consequences for their actions. Completely unrealistic, in every sense, not just scientifically but artistically. And often just plain nasty. It is fairly well written, and amusing in places, but in the end it is not his best work.… (more)
LibraryThing member elam11
Originally, I told myself I'd give this book to the 10% mark to grab me, and then I'd DNF it. I did make it to 40%! But as I reflected on it this weekend, I realized I still couldn't say I was actually enjoying it at all on pretty much any level. Time to cut my losses.

Turn-Offs, in order of irritation:
- a male author writing female characters rhapsodizing about their newfound embrace of womanhood as they got older, got divorced, became witches. Bold move, Cotton. WORSE, there were 2 different places in which a female character muses on that natural healing nature/instinct of women... sexual healing, natch. The more a guy is a depressed, useless, schlubby, unattractive loser, the more they just want to open their bodies to him to provide him that sexual healing. Of course. That screams male wish-fulfillment waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more than it does female sexual empowerment!

At least 2/3 of the women are sleeping with married men (not their first time doing that, either...) with no compunctions about it, but neither do they seem especially happy or fulfilled by it. And then they all sort of compete for/share in the "affections" of the newcomer to the town, who is this abrasive, overbearing, mansplaining dick.

- hard to catch any of the historicity of the setting. Peak sexual revolution and social upheaval, and none of it more than barely mentioned in passing a couple times. What's the point?

- sentences for days. I don't think of myself as the kind of person typically bothered by superfluous details in books (I like all the food descriptions in ASoIaF!), but damn, those were a lot of words to say not a lot about nothing very important, over and over. So many semicolons.

- it was hard to get a grip on how said magic existed. I'm willing to give some leeway on this, but this is an otherwise real-life historical ("Vietnam era") setting with otherwise normal life crap going on, but their magic is definitely real, apparently. It's just taken for granted that they found this outlet, which... if this is an integral part to their new identities... And I mean, I'm cool with unexplained magic, and authors/creators often go wrong in trying to justify or explain the inexplicable. But this is not set up necessarily as "the world is magic, deal with it," so it's just this odd choice that's not even the point of anything, so why...?
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LibraryThing member DanielAlgara
3.5 really. And this on a Modified Updike Scale. Most authors wouldn't reach a two on a Modified Updike Scale. Word.
LibraryThing member EdgeOfInsane
I will say that I just read the book for the first time about a week ago, and have yet to see the movie. I thought the characters, or witches, were a little nuts. At least 2 of them seemed to have no emotions whatsoever, except when it came to revenge or some sort.

While I got an idea of who Sukie and Alex were, I had no clue who Jane was. Her character seemed like it was a figment of your imagination. I also thought that none of the characters were fully developed. There was good drama, and enough witchy-ness to keep the reader wanting more. I just wish I had gotten a sense of who everyone truly was.… (more)
LibraryThing member lesindy
The witches are horrible sluts. I can't empathize or care about them at all. The movie is much better.
LibraryThing member Carol420
Set in the fictional Rhode Island town of Eastwick circa 1970, this novel follows for a year the lives of three divorced women in their 30's - actually most of the ex's are dead, Sukie, Alexandra, and Jane, who have unusual powers to affect the course of events. Though they are powerful in a special way, they are not feminists, per se; they more represent the mystery and subtle desires and capabilities of women. Hardly anti-men, they have had numerous affairs with some of the married men in the town justified largely because the men have been beaten down by haranguing wives. The townspeople barely tolerate them.

These three women become flustered when an enigmatic man, Darryl Van Horne, moves into and fixes up a run-down mansion on the outskirts of town. They all vie for his attention during his sybaritic hot-tub gatherings, yet none of them can really penetrate his mysterious aura.

There is little plot in this story as attention is focused on the interactions of the three women and Darryl. The author's tendency to insert lengthy digressions, observations, and descriptions on all manner of subjects in most every scene makes for tedious reading. Unfortunately, the interesting dynamics of the story lose steam by the end of the book.

Actually 2.5 stars
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LibraryThing member ashleytylerjohn
A lovely book, very different from the film. The film is frothy and silly and very Touchstone 1980s (whether they made it or not, I can't remember--but it's that kind of mood). The book is much more serious, although (given that it's about three women inadvertently summoning the devil) it's also a bit of a hoot.

Updike is well-known to be a terrific writer, and there's almost nothing I enjoy more than a good fantasy from a great writer. Not my all-time favourite book, so no 5 stars, but I have nothing to complain of here.

Just don't read it expecting the film in print. The film kept the central premise and the characters, but the tone is entirely changed.
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LibraryThing member brakketh
Enjoyable Updike writing.



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