The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike. Ballantine Books, New York, 1984.
Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie aren’t your normal divorced women. They are witches. Not the nature loving kind but something completely different. They do not use their powers for the good of others but for their own good. The Witches of Eastwick focuses on the lives of these three women living in a fictional Northeastern town. After their divorces, each woman discovers that she has magical abilities. Each Thursday, they get together to use their powers to spy on their neighbors. They know who is ill, who is in debt, and many other secrets about their fellow townsmen.
However, they have secrets of their own. All three women have had numerous affairs with the majority of the married men in town. They are each attracted to their new neighbor, Darryl Van Horne. He seduces them and takes each woman as his lover, causing a rift between the friends as they each compete for his attention. However, they have opposition from Felecia Gabriel and use their magic to pull all sorts of pranks on her which lead to further complications.
Updike very rarely portrays women sympathetically and The Witches of Eastwick is no exception. As a matter of fact, all of Updike’s characters in Eastwick are terribly flawed. While this may upset some readers, it was a bit refreshing for me. No person on Earth is perfect and our flaws are what make us who we are. Updike is a master at creating characters that are not only believable but also relatable. While we may not agree with the actions the witches take, most of us can understand the motivation behind those actions.
Eastwick is not terribly long, roughly 300 pages, but it may take some time to get through due to Updike’s use of details. He will sometimes stop in the middle of a conversation and explain the character’s thoughts or surroundings in great detail, usually in multiple paragraphs. One conversation can take multiple pages to finish, thereby losing a reader who is not paying strict attention. However, these same details make the scenes of the novel feel so real. Any reader of Updike is able to vividly describe his fictional town as if they had visited it themselves.
The Witches of Eastwick is not so much a novel about the magic of three women but a novel of how scandal can affect an entire town and the relationships between people. Magic plays an important part in Eastwick, not in how it is performed, but how it affects the relationships between the three friends and everyone they know. Updike easily conveys how fragile the bonds between people are and how little it takes to break them. Truly an excellent read for those who love vivid descriptions and true to life characters.