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3.59  ·  Rating Details ·  3,796 Ratings  ·  234 Reviews
Couples is the book that has been assailed for its complete frankness & praised as an artful, seductive, savagely graphic portrait of love, marriage & adultery in America. But be it damned or hailed, Couples drew back the curtain forever on sex in suburbia in the late 20th century. A classic, it's one of those books that will be read & remembered for a long tim ...more
Paperback, German Edition, 488 pages
Published 1972 by Rowohlt (first published 1968)
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Jul 16, 2009 Eric rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unexpected, ficciones
I’m honestly a bit surprised that I picked this up. To my prejudices it was the jejune, possibly self-caricatural big bestseller, the book whose fame caused every obituary writer to narrowly cast Updike as a chronicler of upper-middle class New England marriages (Rabbit is a Pennsylvanian petit-bourgeois, as it happens). I had heard plenty of bad reports—-from personal friends, from distantly eminent judges (Martin Amis called it a “false summit” of the Updike oeuvre). But I was at a library sal ...more
Feb 17, 2009 brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to brian by: erik simon
one reads a lot of this about updike: “it’s really well written, but…”, “the prose soars, but…”, “the writing was great, but…”

you don’t see a lot of this regarding vincent van gogh: “it’s really well painted, but…”, “the brush strokes are nice but… isn’t he just painting a flower? or some wheat? or a dirty bar?”

an imperfect analogy, but close enough. updike digests reality and spits it out with such force and kaleidoscopic beauty i’d compare his description of reality against reality itself as
Rebecca F.
Maybe I'm an idealist when it comes to matter of the heart, romantic idiom, love and marriage, so it is hard for me to grasp the reality that some people actually live(d) as described in this book. But with an entire novel (Couples) and a good part of at least two of the Rabbit books dedicated to the scenario of partner "swapping" and "swinging," and other forms of adultery (a.k.a. cheating), I am pushed to accept that not only does this behavior exist, but that author John Updike actually did i ...more
Vit Babenco
Feb 22, 2016 Vit Babenco rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Thou shalt not commit adultery” – Exodus 20:14. But days in a small town are empty and everyone needs something to fill the hole in one’s day to day living. So adultery becomes practically the only entertainment and the transgression of this commandment is no longer sin but bliss…
“She seemed to float on her bed at a level of bliss little altered by his coming and going and thus worked upon him a challenge; at last she confessed he was hurting her and curled one finger around the back of his ear
Jason Pettus
(In November 2015, my rare-book service sold a first edition, first printing of John Updike's Couples through our eBay account []. Below is the write-up I did for its listing.)

Like so many of the great authors of the Postmodernist era, John Updike by the late 1960s had already established himself through the usual channels of the Mid-Century Modernist age before -- he had been a staff writer for The New Yorker, where he had come directly after his stint at the Harv
May 30, 2013 Bonnie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book reminded me of my mother; one she may have read with pink edged pages, copyright 1968, the price on the cover $1.25 (not even an ISBN number). I picked up this one for its reputation for sex - and I was not disappointed.
But that's not why I gave it five stars. John Updike is a dazzling wordsmith. Everything from the imagery to the depth of his characters to the story line was top notch. I'd never read such a vivid representation of an asshole as I have with Piet Hanema.
Of course, it w
Jul 22, 2011 Don rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What's wonderful and aggravating about Updike all in one book. We see the same recycled themes here (parts feel very much like Marry Me and the Rabbit series, among others), which isn't a bad thing. Updike loves to focus on adultery, and he does so as well as anyone I know. Some great characters here. Love the Piet storyline and all the characters involved in it. Also love the side-story about the swinging couple; really interesting stuff there that, unfortunately, he never really comes back to. ...more
Feb 10, 2010 Ann rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read this book solely because it was once bestowed what I think is the most unforgettable blurb of all time: the author's wife once described it as "wading through pubic hair." Obviously, it was only a matter of time before I read Couples. Don't be like me. Don't read Couples.

Ok, now some disclaimers! This is the only Updike I've ever read (except for "Fellatio", surely The Worst Poem Ever Written, and I'm really more embarrassed for him than angry at him for writing it), so I've no comparison
Apr 03, 2011 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't read anything by John Updike for years so I picked up "Couples" at the library just so I could switch over to a prominent American writer for a change of pace. One of his most read books, "Couples" deals with the "new morality" that took hold amongst the young surburbanite married couples starting in the early 60's. Updike portrays this suburban culture in graphic, explicit terms, painting a picture of almost total inmorality amoung the couples of the town of "Tarbox". Even in 2011 ter ...more
60's wife swapping in New England - hence rather confusing at first re who is married to who, who is having an affair with who, who children belong to etc. Wonderfully poignant and evocative metaphors and descriptive passages; other bits are deliberately disjointed, more like stream-of-consciousness.

Feb 20, 2016 Jos rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In another review of another book Updike's work was described as representing the post-war 20th century experience. Specifically, the WASP experience with the occasional catholic and jew thrown in the mix. Not being American and having the 21st century, this is threatening his work with obsolescence. Luckily, some of this experience is universally human and lasting, making Couples a worthwile read today.

It's about ten couples living in imaginary Tarbox, a small former fishermen's town about an h
Mar 30, 2013 Diana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Двойки" напомня много на написаната 11 години по-късно "Ожени се за мен". Няколкото семейства са разширена версия на нейните две двойки. Образуват затворен кръг в идилично и елегантно предградие на Бостън - едно голямо семейство, което прави буквално всичко заедно, тайно или съвсем открито, в различни конфигурации от пол, възраст, социален статус, етнос, образование и религия. Едната част от ежедневието им е улегнала и нормална, другата - колкото скандализираща и порочна, толкова и първично чов ...more
Naomi Zener
I had to quit 110 pages in. The prose was overwritten and the story was boring. Perhaps it was scandalous at the time of publication, but it was not for me. I couldn't get into the author's style of writing--perhaps others will enjoy it, but it was not for me.
Feb 06, 2013 Philip rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sixties somethings

The early nineteen sixties beckoned on a decade of change. Not only did the world shake off most of the remnants of its most recent global war, not only did Europe’s defeated former colonial powers almost complete their American-dictated divestment of their assets, not only did capitalism institutionalise the shape of globalised future, but also, apparently, married people discovered sex. But not, for the purposes of Couples by John Updike, with their legal partners…

John Updike
Nick Duretta
May 25, 2016 Nick Duretta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is certainly the most cynical novel about marriage I have ever read, although it is important to place it in its day. (It was published in 1968 but the story takes place in 1963.) The couples of the title are all relatively young, some starting to raise families, moneyed and adrift in a bucolic suburbia outside of Boston. Their town has puritanical street names like Divinity, Hope and Charity. Sexual liberation has arrived, and few among this bunch can resist its allure. Soon the mate-swapp ...more
Katherine Tallent
John Updike is a brilliant writer so this book wasn't as boring as it otherwise could have been. The words and sentences were fantastic, but the content itself not so great.

There were too many families and characters, so if there were perhaps half the amount you could focus more completely on the important ones, rather than trying to remember everyones names and relation to each other unnecessarily.

But the characters who were important and who Updike put a lot of time and effort into describing
Jul 14, 2014 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rereading this book proved a doubly nostalgic experience. I first read Couples in 1990, when it was the first novel by Updike I approached; I enjoyed it then, especially for the evocation of my old home area and the shadows that so many people I knew growing up cast on the characters Updike creates (my father sold Updike his first house in Ipswich, my aunt was the organist at the church on the hill that is struck by lightening – in realty and in the novel). rereading it with the benefit of a cou ...more
Nick Hahn
Feb 23, 2013 Nick Hahn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is thoroughly depressing. Now I've just recently finished A Farewell to Arms and that book was also thoroughly depressing but Couples is an entirely different species of depressing in that you can't believe how depraved these people are. As someone who is constantly called a hopeless romantic, it is shocking to see some of the things these married couples will do (or perhaps it is a sad wake up call?).

Of course it goes without saying that John Updike once again proves himself as a gif
Sandra Barron
I came to this book purposefully, wanting to engage in mental conversation about couples in the suburbs of New England. I have very recently been reading other (similar) authors on the same subject: Fitzgerald (Tender is the Night, anyone?) Cheever, Yates (Revolutionary Road is a cousin, theme-wise). I’m not one to call these books “outdated” as some people have, as I usually find that 90% is universal and familiar in social behavior today. Couples, however, did feel dated because of the focus o ...more
Jan 25, 2008 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
(writen 6-04)

This was the closest thing to a romance novel I have probably ever read, although I think it has literary value. I heard that when it came out it had some of the raciest scenes - I guess the public was ready though because it was a best-seller. Oh, the couples of Tarbox, with its streets ironically named Charity and Purity and Chastity, with the big church on the hill. Piet sure is a ladies' man, a trait which causes his downfall in the end. Is happiness worth two broken families? M
Carla Stafford
I picked this book up on a whim at the library. I have no previous John Updike experience, so less than little, that until halfway through this novel-I thought John Updike and John Irving were one in the same.

Basically this novel is about a bunch of swinging couples in Tarbox, a community near Boston-I think. Angela and Peit Hanema are the focus...he is unfaithful, and she is cold. They are not part of the swinging couples in their community, but they are part of their circle. There are a coupl
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Apr 12, 2009 Cari rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
I gave this book 2 stars, because like the other Updike I've read (Rabbit, Run), there is no denying that Couples is well-written. However, also like Rabbit, Run, I just didn't like it. I don't enjoy Updike's characters - I find them all completely unsympathetic. This novel seems to be about the danger of prescriptive existence in an unforgiving, unimaginative suburban town, where several (how many were there in the end, 8? 10?) couples in the early years of marriage and children, break the mono ...more
Jenn McConkey
Interesting to say the least. Long haul that it was with it's sometimes overdetailed prose I love the visuals Updike achieves in this story. The comparisons between parts of womens bodies and whatever variety of things he could think of to describe them was erotic and shows a man who loves women and aknowledges that women can and do love sex as mutually as men. Shows us that perhaps not prude but unsatisfied is more often the cause of a disinterested wife. I must admit I started looking at my ne ...more
Nov 24, 2014 Angie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I barely wanted to admit I read this crazy, weird, swingers' story, so I gave it 3 stars and put it away. In fact, I completely forgot I read it at all. So, missing Updike, I went back and read it again, and gave it another star. This time, the rampant adultery, while central to the novel, actually took a back seat to other things, and as with all Updike books, the (crazy-ass) characters began to take shape and become familiar, their flaws giving way to delicate virtues, until I liked most of th ...more
Josh Boardman
Sep 16, 2013 Josh Boardman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't think I can be disappointed with Updike. I know I'm wrong. I'll read a stinker soon enough (maybe his post-apocalyptic or apocalyptic or whatever it is book?), but in the mean time, he has officially become my favorite writer (for a while, of his class). His narration is so spotless, and always integrated seamlessly with his gorgeous descriptions and probably unintentionally hilarious dialogue. He's just such a cynical old dad, I love it. This book is ridiculous. Summarize it to friends, ...more
Constance Dunn
Three stars for the prose. I mean Updike knows how to use his words, no denying, but….
I got a little sick of spinning in this dry tumble with frustrated couples who drink their boredom away and sleep with their neighbor's spouse to try and light the fire again. The whole thing seemed so dismal and pointless, and maybe that was Updike's point about the educated classes on the east coast in the 1960s. However, even with Updike's prose I found it difficult to motivate myself to turn the page and fo
May 06, 2009 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't even finish this book--and I tried pretty hard. These couples just became insufferable after a while, everyone cheating on one another and then doing nothing to make their lives what they want it to be. A bunch of miserable people complaining a lot and longing after one another--a real slog to get through.
Feb 16, 2015 Iffat rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's like watching Gossip Girl - grown-up version, fueled by a mid-life crisis. Being explicit for the sake of being explicit is not such an admirable trait as Updike seems to have assumed and it definitely does not guarantee an interesting read. Hard to keep track of who's sleeping with whom, especially since the characters lack depth and seem to be carbon copies of each other.
Brent Legault
Impossibly silly. Could anyone at any time have ever thought there was something controversial about this novel? It defies belief. And if it is true, as articles and newsclippings from the 1960's do suggest, then I'm afraid our literary ancestorss were a truly primitive breed.
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John Hoyer Updike was an American writer. Updike's most famous work is his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and Rabbit Remembered). Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest both won Pulitzer Prizes for Updike. Describing his subject as "the American small town, Protestant middle class," Updike is well known for his careful craftsmanship and prolific writing, havin ...more
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“I like old men. They can be wonderful bastards because they have nothing to lose. The only people who can be themselves are babies and old bastards.” 19 likes
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