Eric Chappell's Reviews > The Witches of Eastwick

The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike
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's review
Jan 25, 2012

it was amazing
Read in August, 2010

Read Summer 2010; Re-read January 2011

Summary: Wickedly entertaining. The Witches of Eastwick is about three divorced women in the New England town of Eastwick who discover that after being abandoned or divorced from their husbands, they have supernatural powers. Alexandra Spoffard, the sculptress, is the leader of the three. She makes little clay figurines (called "bubbies"), stores too much tomato sauce, and is carrying on an affair with Joe Marino, the town plumber. Jane Smart, the cellist, is probably the most 'wicked' of the three, she is having an affair with Raymond Neff, the high school music teacher (24). Sukie Rougemont, the writer, is a reporter, columnist for the Word, the town newspaper, and is having an affair with Ed Parsley the Unitarian minister and Clyde Gabriel, the editor-in-chief of the Word. The witches circle is interrupted by the arrival of Darryl Van Horne to the Lennox mansion just outside of town by the coast. Darryl is at once both crude and seemingly sophisticated--he spits when he talks, tells dirty jokes, yet plays music and collects art and is working on renewable energy. Each of the witches end up paying Van Horne a visit, Alexandra the last and most opposed. Act 1 ends with an orgy in Van Horne's elaborate hot tub room after a game of magical tennis. Act ii begins with Ed leaving town and the climax is Clyde Gabriel's murder of his wife and his suicide. Jenny and Chris, the Gabriel's two kids, move back into town and become "part" of the group. Act iii begins with Sukie selling the Gabriel home and Jenny and Chris moving in with Darryl. Eventually, Van Horne marries Jenny. The witches are angered. They put a hex on Jenny and riddle her body with cancer. She ends up dying. Van Horne turns out to be Chris' gay lover and they move to NYC. It is suggested that he was gay all along and only married Jenny to get inheritance money to ward off his creditors. The coven of witches kind of disbands and faded away. Each witch performs a spell and gets married again. And all of them leave Eastwick.

Act i: The Coven

Of plants tomatoes seemed the most human, eager and fragile and prone to rot (6). Gardening is given sexual innuendo.

(14) Alexandra wills a thunderstorm to clear the beach. "Not until midlife did she truly believe that she had a right to exist, that the forces of nature had created her not as an afterthought and companion--a bent rib, as the infamous Malleus Maleficarum had it--but as the mainstay of the continuing Creation, as the daughter of a daughter and a woman whose daughters in turn would bear daughters."

"One of the liberations of becoming a witch had been that she had ceased constantly weighing herself" (17).

(18ff) Description of Alexandra as artist.

(22) Sukie's description of a year of eating zucchini. Hilarious.

"Being a divorcee in a small town is a little like playing Monopoly; eventually you land on all the properties" (25).

(67) "Healing belonged to their natures, and if the world accused them of coming between men and wives, of tying the disruptive ligature, of knotting the aiguillette that places the kink of impotence or emotional coldness in the entrails of a marriage seemingly secure in its snugly roofed and darkened house, and if the world not merely accused but burned them alive in the tongues of indignant opinion, that was the price they must pay. It was fundamental and instinctive, it was womanly, to want to heal--to apply the poultice of acquiescent flesh to the wound of a man's desire, to give his closeted spirit the exaltation of seeing a witch slip out of her clothes and go skyclad in a room of tawdry motel furniture."

(73-75) Description of Felicia Gabriel--outraged by everything. Brilliant.

(83) It was nice to have yourself known by a man...

(84) Van Horne's opinion of hunting.

(102) America teaches its children that every passion can be transmuted into an occasion to buy.

(98-120) Description of tennis game and orgy in hot tub.

Act ii: Maleficia

Begins with Ed Parsley running off with Dawn Polanski, a local teenager, for the Movement, some anti-government, anti-establishment group.

(131) Sukie's talk of Ed Parsley with Van Horne. "Nobody knows what a minister is supposed to be doing, just give his silly sermon on Sundays, it's really such a ripoff."

(142-156) Description of Clyde Gabriel's murder of his wife and subsequent suicide."Language, he was thinking, perhaps is the curse, that took us out of Eden" (146). "Marriage is like two people locked up with one lesson to read, over and over, until the words become madness" (149). "then a redness in his overstuffed skull was followed by blackness, giving way, with the change of a single letter, to blankness" (156).

(185-191) Is a bit of interesting dialogue between the three witches and Jenny Gabriel. There are hardly any referents for the dialogue. Significance?

(200) Alexandra kills an innocent...a puppy.

(201) Delightful description of the town. Historical place, social commentary.

(210) Big quote. Ends Act ii.

Act iii: Guilt

Begins with Sukie selling the Gabriel house, and Jenny and Christ moving in with Van Horne.

(220) Alexandra kills squirrel. Throws it out into bog behind her house--like the tin foil, hair, wax, pins she throws out after the witches hex it to curse Jenny.

(287ff) Van Horne preaches a sermon.
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