About this title:
More than three decades have passed since the events described in John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick. The three divorcées—Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie—have left town, remarried, and become widows. They cope with their grief and solitude as widows do: they travel the world, to such foreign lands as Canada, Egypt, and China, and renew old acquaintance. Why not, Sukie and Jane ask Alexandra, go back to Eastwick for the summer? The old Rhode Island seaside town, where they indulged in wicked mischief under the influence of the diabolical Darryl Van Horne, is still magical for them. Now Darryl is gone, and their lovers of the time have aged or died, but enchantment remains in the familiar streets and scenery of the village, where they enjoyed their lusty primes as free and empowered women. And, among the local citizenry, there are still those who remember them, and wish them ill. How they cope with the lingering traces of their evil deeds, the shocks of a mysterious counterspell, and the advancing inroads of old age, form the burden on Updike’s delightful, ominous sequel.
About the Author:
John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954 and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker and since 1957 has lived in Massachusetts. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
i. The Coven Reconstituted
Those of us acquainted with their sordid and scandalous story were not surprised to hear, by way of rumors from the various localities where the sorceresses had settled after fleeing our venerable town of Eastwick, Rhode Island, that the husbands whom the three Godforsaken women had by their dark arts concocted for themselves did not prove durable. Wicked methods make weak products. Satan counterfeits Creation, yes, but with inferior goods.
Alexandra, the oldest in age, the broadest in body, and the nearest in character to normal, generous-spirited humanity, was the first to become a widow. Her instinct, as with so many a wife suddenly liberated into solitude, was to travel—as if the world at large, by way of flimsy boarding cards and tedious airport delays and the faint but undeniable risk of flight in a time of rising fuel costs, airline bankruptcy, suicidal terrorists, and accumulating metal fatigue, could be compelled to yield the fruitful aggravation of having a mate. Jim Farlander, the husband she had conjured for herself from a hollowed pumpkin, a cowboy hat, and a pinch of Western soil scraped from inside the back fender of a pickup truck with Colorado plates that she had seen parked, looking eerily out of place, on Oak Street in the early 1970s, had, as their marriage settled and hardened, proved difficult to budge from his ceramics studio and little-frequented pottery shop on a side street in Taos, New Mexico.
Jim’s idea of a trip had been the hour’s drive south to Santa Fe; his idea of a holiday was spending a day in one of the Indian reservations—Navajo, Zuni, Apache, Acoma, Isleta Pueblo—spying out what the Native American potters were offering in the reservation souvenir shops, and hoping to pick up cheap in some dusty Indian Bureau commissary an authentic old black-and-white geometric Pueblo jar or a red-on-buff Hohokam storage jar, with its spiral-and-maze pattern, which he could peddle for a small fortune to a newly endowed museum in one of the burgeoning resort cities of the Southwest. Jim liked where he was, and Alexandra liked that in him, since she as his wife was part of where he was. She liked his lean build (a flat stomach to the day he died, and never performed a sit-up in his life) and the saddle smell of his sweat and the scent of clay that clung, like a sepia aura, to his strong and knowing hands. They had met, on the natural plane, when she, for some time divorced, had taken a course at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he had been enlisted as a fill-in instructor. The four stepchildren—Marcy, Ben, Linda, Eric—that she saddled him with couldn’t have asked for a calmer, more soothingly taciturn father-substitute. He was easier for her children—half out of the nest in any case, Marcy being all of eighteen—to relate to than their own father, Oswald Spofford, a small manufacturer of kitchen fixtures from Norwich, Connecticut. Poor Ozzie had become so earnestly involved in Little League baseball and company bowling that no one, not even his children, could take him seriously.
People had taken Jim Farlander seriously, women and children especially, giving him back his own coiled silence. His level gray eyes had the glint of a gun from within the shade of his wide-brimmed hat, its crown darkened where his thumb and fingers pinched it. When he was at the pottery wheel he tied a faded blue bandana around his head to keep his long hair—gray but still streaked with its original sun-bleached auburn and gathered behind into an eight-inch ponytail—out of the clay, wet and spinning on the foot-powered wheel. A fall in his teens from a horse had left him with a limp, and the wheel, which he refused to electrify, limped with him, while out of the spinning his masculine hands shaped blobs upward into graceful vessels with slender waists and swelling bottoms.
It was in bed she first felt his death coming. His erections began to wilt just as she might have come if he had held on; instead, in his body upon hers, there was a palpable loosening in the knit of his sinews. There had been a challenging nicety in the taut way Jim dressed himself—pointy vanilla-colored boots, butt-hugging jeans with rivet-bordered pockets, and crisp checked shirts double-buttoned at the cuff. Once a dandy of his type, he began to wear the same shirt two and even three days in a row. His jaw showed shadows of white whisker underneath, from careless shaving or troubled eyesight. When the ominous blood counts began to arrive from the hospital, and the shadows in the X-rays were visible to even her untrained eyes, he greeted the news with stoic lassitude; Alexandra had to fight to get him out of his crusty work clothes into something decent. They had joined the legion of elderly couples who fill hospital waiting rooms, as quiet with nervousness as parents and children before a recital. She felt the other couples idly pawing at them with their eyes, trying to guess which of the two was the sick one, the doomed one; she didn’t want it to be obvious. She wanted to present Jim as a mother presents a child going to school for the first time, as a credit to her. They had lived, these thirty-plus years since she had lived in Eastwick, by their own rules, up in Taos; there the free spirits of the Lawrences and Mabel Dodge Luhan still cast a sheltering cachet over the remnant tribe of artistic wannabes, a hard-drinking, New Age–superstitious, artsy-craftsy crowd who aimed their artifacts, in their shop-window displays, more and more plaintively at scrimping, low-brow tourists rather than the well-heeled local collectors of Southwestern art. Alexandra for a time had revived her manufacture of little ceramic “bubbies”—faceless, footless little female figures, pleasant to hold in the hand and roughly painted in clothes worn as close to the skin as tattoos—but Jim, jealous and dictatorial in his art as true artists are, had been less than gracious about sharing his kiln. In any case, the miniature women, their vulval cleft boldly dented into the clay with a toothpick or nail file held sideways, belonged to an uncomfortable prior period of her life, when she had practiced, with two other Rhode Island divorcees, a half-baked suburban variety of witchcraft.
Jim’s illness drove her and Jim down from safe, arty Taos into the wider society, the valleys of the ailing, a vast herd moving like stampeded bison toward the killing cliff. The socialization forced upon her—interviews with doctors, most of them unsettlingly young; encounters with nurses, demanding merciful attentions the hospitalized patient was too manly and depressed to ask for himself; commisera- tion with others in her condition, soon-to-be widows and widowers she would have shunned on the street but now, in these antiseptic hallways, embraced with shared tears—prepared her for travel in the company of strangers.
She could not believe it—how totally Jim was gone, his morning absence as vivid as a rooster’s wake-up crow, his evening non-appearance a refusal bound, she felt, to be cancelled, any moment, by the scuffling sound of his boots limping across the entry hall or the squeak, two rooms away, of his potter’s wheel. Three months after his death, she signed up for a ten-day tour of the Canadian Rockies. Her old, married, cosseted self, a bohemian snob proud of her careless, mannish clothes and high-desert privacy, would have sneered at the feigned camaraderie of an organized group tour. She foresaw the daily duty to rise and gorge on cafeteria-style hotel breakfasts and submit to more marvels, and the resisted but irresistible naps in the swaying bus in clammy proximity to an alien body, usually that of another plucky widow, overweight and remorselessly talkative. Then there would be the sleepless hours, amid worrisome small noises and mysterious tiny red lights, in a king-size bed built for a couple. Hotel pillows were always too stuffed, too full, and lifted her head too high, so she woke, groggily dumfounded to have slept at all, with a stiff neck. The pillow next to hers would be undented. It would dawn on her that she would never be one of a couple again.
But, born in Colorado, she thought it an amusing idea to follow the Rockies north into another country, where a dramatic landscape did not flatter the rapacious vanity of the United States. And Canada, she discovered, did have its good points: airports not bribed to install television sets pouring forth an inescapable babble, and voices whose familiar North American accent was braced by a few leftover Scots vowels, and a gray imperial gravity of public architecture. This national identity had been created by the sensible spirit of business enterprise, linking the provinces like great beads on an iron railroad line, rather than by any evangelical preachment of a Manifest Destiny—manifest only to its Anglo perpetrators—that had hurled the agglutinated United States westwards and then outwards, across all the oceans, where its boy soldiers lost limbs and died. The daily death-tolls from Iraq were worth escaping.
On the other hand, in Canada hotel restaurants still seemed to think Frank Sinatra and Nat “King” Cole the latest thing in background music, and the giant cruise ships docked in Vancouver were headed off to dreary cold Alaska. Canada, its tundra and icefields and miles of forest pressing its population down tight against the forty-ninth parallel, had in self-defense embraced Green-ness, trying to make a pet of it, mining for tourist dollars the nostalgia and righteousness inherent in its cause. Bring Back Nature—who could object to that? But for Alexandra, totem poles and emblematic moose had a basic boringness. She felt, up here, trapped in an attic of stuffed animals. Nature had been her ally in witchcraft, but still she distrusted it, as a conscienceless killer, spendthrift and blind.
After a day in Vancouver, and another in determinedly quaint Victoria, the tour—forty t...
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