Witches of Eastwick (Updike)

Summary  |  Author  |  Book Reviews  |  Discussion Questions

The Witches of Eastwick 
John Updike, 1984
Random House
306 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780449912102

In Brief 
Before they were the widows of Eastwick, our heroines were a trio of delightfully wicked witches.

In a small New England town in that hectic era when the sixties turned into the seventies, there lived three witches. Alexandra Spoffard, a sculptress, could create thunderstorms. Jane Smart, a cellist, could fly. The local gossip columnist, Sukie Rougemont, could turn milk into cream. Divorced but hardly celibate, the wonderful witches one day found themselves quite under the spell of the new man in town, Darryl Van Horne, whose strobe-lit hot tub room became the scene of satanic pleasures. (From the publisher.)

The 1987 film version starred Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jack Nicholson.

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About the Author 

 Birth—March 18, 1932
Where—Reading, Pennsylvania, USA
Death—January 27, 2009
Where—Danvers, Massachusetts
Education—A.B., Harvard University; also studied at the
   Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford, England
Awards—National Book Award for The Centaur, 1964;
   Pulitzer Prizer, National Book Critics Circle Award, and
   National Book Award for Rabbit Is Rich, 1982; Pulitzer Prize
   and National Book Critics Circle Award for Rabbit at Rest,

With an uncommonly varied oeuvre that includes poetry, criticism, essays, short stories, and novels, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Updike has helped to change the face of late-20th-century American literature.

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Updike graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1954. Following a year of study in England, he joined the staff of The New Yorker, establishing a relationship with the magazine that continues to this day. Since 1957, he has lived in two small towns in Massachusetts that have inspired the settings for several of his stories.

In 1958, Updike's first collection of poetry was published. A year later, he made his fiction debut with The Poorhouse Fair. But it was his second novel, 1960's Rabbit, Run, that forged his reputation and introduced one of the most memorable characters in American fiction. Former small-town basketball star Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom struck a responsive chord with readers and critics alike and catapulted Updike into the literary stratosphere.

Updike would revisit Angstrom in 1971, 1981, and 1990, chronicling his hapless protagonist's jittery journey into undistinguished middle age in three melancholy bestsellers: Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, and Rabbit at Rest. A concluding novella, "Rabbit Remembered," appears in the 2001 story collection Licks of Love.

Although autobiographical elements appear in the Rabbit books, Updike's true literary alter ego is not Harry Angstrom but Harry Bech, a famously unproductive Jewish-American writer who stars in his own story cycle. In between—indeed, far beyond—his successful series, Updike has gone on to produce an astonishingly diverse string of novels. In addition, his criticism and short fiction remain popular staples of distinguished literary publications.

• Updike first became entranced by reading when he was a young boy growing up on an isolated farm in Pennsylvania. Afflicted with psoriasis and a stammer, he escaped from his into mystery novels.

• He decided to attend Harvard University because he was a big fan of the school's humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon.

• Updike has basically won every major literary prize in America, including the Guggenheim Fellow, the Rosenthal Award, the National Book Award in Fiction, the O. Henry Prize, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Union League Club Abraham Lincoln Award, the National Arts Club Medal of Honor, and the National Medal of the Arts. (Author bio from Barnes & Noble.)

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Critics Say . . . 
(Pre-internet books have few indepth mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

The premise of The Witches of Eastwick is all in fun. But serious fun. Because even if the witches aren't responsible for what's gone wrong with small-town contemporary New England culture, they offer Mr. Updike a metaphor with which he has brought that culture wittily and radiantly to life.
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt - New York Times

A great deal of fun to read...fresh, constantly entertaining...John Updike [is] a wizard of language and observation.
Philadelphia Inquirer

A wicked entertainment.... In book after book, Updike’s fine, funny impressionistic art strips the full casings of everyday-ness from objects we have known all our lives and makes them shine with fresh new connections.
New Republic 

Witty, ironic, engrossing, punctuated by transports of spectacular prose. [Selected as one of Time's Five Best Works of Fiction of the Year.]

Sexual freedom, as sexually explicit in its language...as direct in its sexual reporting, as abundant in its sexual activities.
Atlantic Monthly

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Book Club Discussion Questions 

Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Witches of Eastwick:

1. Why witches? As a metaphor, what do they represent? Here's a hint from one critic:

The whole brew is several times offered as a metaphor for the evil unloosed in America in the 1960's. (New York Times' Lehmann-Haupt).

To what particular evils—and to whom—is he referring? (The last name is a clever tip-off.)

2. Talk about the way in which Updike interweaves the past with the present—an attempt to shed light on a particularly brutal past in the nation's history. How do events of past and present relate to one another?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online of off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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