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Friday, October 24, 2008

Review: The Widows of Eastwick

By John Updike
· Hardcover: 320 pages
· Publisher: Knopf (October 21, 2008)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0307269604
· ISBN-13: 978-0307269607

It’s been 30 years since the comely coven of Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie left Eastwick behind for separate lives with newly conjured husbands, Alexandra to an artist in New Mexico; Jane to a well-to-do financial consultant in New England; and Sukie to a nouveau-riche entrepreneur in Connecticut. Who’s to say if they left Eastwick for a second chance at love and happiness or was it to escape the shame and guilt of having killed one of their own? Perhaps they left to avoid the ire of their numerous enemies, who coveted their beauty, power, and sexual freedom?

Suffice it to say, gone are the days of meeting together to raise the cone of power. No more maleficia. No more orgiastic sabbats with their shared lover Daryl Van Horne. No more feasting upon fine delicacies in the grand rooms of Lenox Manor. Alexandra fills her days devoted to her husband and his craft, somehow finding the time to nurture her own. Whereas Jane somewhat enjoys the leisurely pace of the idle rich, and Sukie expresses her creativity by writing romance novels just this side of pornography. 

Having settled into the routine of their lives, the women suddenly find themselves widowed with the death of their respective husbands. The witches now face the grim reality of their own death and seek to renew the friendships of the past. After having had little contact in the past thirty years, the women initially reconnect through letters and phone calls. These calls first lead to Alexandra and Jane taking a trip to Egypt together, and the following year, Sukie joins them for a trip to China

After having to persuade Alexandra a bit, the women decide to return to the “scene of their primes” as one of the witches describes Eastwick. Interestingly, they end up renting Lenox Manor (now divided into several condos and renamed to reflect the fact) for the months of August and September. Though many years have passed, they begrudgingly look forward to their return trip to Eastwick, which they attribute to both a sense of curiosity as well as a sense of guilt for their part in the demise of Jenny Gabriel, the wife of Daryl Van Horne.
The return of the witches to Eastwick shocks its citizens, and Jane in particular gets a peculiar shock in return, or rather a series of shocks. Alexandra un-expectantly meets the wife of one of her past lovers who attributes her daughter’s inability to conceive to the coven’s black magic. Sukie meets with a former lover, eleven years her junior, only to find that fantasy has given away to reality and her former boy-toy is now an old man. Not only has his six-pack grown into a keg, but his hand has become deformed due to an accident which occurred aboard the ship on which he used to work. 

About the same time Jane suffers a health scare, she realizes that Christopher Gabriel, the brother of the girl they murdered, is also in town. The women come to believe that Darryl has shared some of his power with the man they describe as his ‘disciple’ and that he is the cause of Jane’s problems. The witches decide to flex their magical muscles once again and raise the cone of power. However, this time they decide to attempt to right the wrongs of the past. Jane seeks a healing, while Alexandra prays to the Goddess to allow her old enemy’s daughter to conceive, and Sukie makes her wish for her former lover to be made whole again. 

They barely raised the cone of power before the unthinkable happens. Their enemy claims his first victim from among their number and the two witches left behind must counteract his spell or be taken next. 

It would be a mistake to say that I read this book, but rather I devoured it; as once I started reading it, I could not put Widows down until I had digested the whole story. I very much enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the many places the witches visited during their travels as well as their philosophical banter which was quite interesting. I found the women’s attempts to understand and actually utilize today’s technology (cell phones, hybrid cars, etc…) both amusing and realistic. 

I especially liked the description of the witches’ ritual to raise the cone of power and was delighted that the author actually attempted to somewhat update their practices. The fact that the witches used terms such as chakras, athame, and Wicca hinted that at least one of them had continued her studies on some level. I would have loved to have gotten the elderly witches observations on how the craft has come to the forefront of society’s consciousness. How the practice of magic and witchcraft isn’t as hidden as it was in their day. What might these witches have thought of Buffy or The Charmed Ones

There were a few instances where I was slightly offended such as Alexandra’s reaction when it dawned upon her that one of the men in her tour group was gay; or not so much disgusted but disturbed as when Sukie (a sixty-something year old woman, mind you) got a facial after orally pleasuring one of her lovers. However, I chalked up Alexandra’s reaction to her personal prejudice due to her age as well as having been betrayed by Daryl, who had left the women so long ago for the bed of another man. 

Finally, I found the author’s attempt to explain magic in scientific terms somewhat boring as well as Chris explanation as to how he attempted to duplicate the witch’s maleficia by manipulating electrons too clinical albeit not impossible. I felt that any attempt to dissect the process of magic detracts from the mystery of the power and removes any sense of the enjoyment of reading. 

I found Widows to be a fast, interesting, and delightful read, save for a few inconsistencies and aforementioned detractions. The author did an excellent job of maintaining the characterizations he created with the first novel, with just enough changed to show that the women had matured, or rather had grown. I had hoped for an appearance of Daryl Van Horne, but perhaps his time has passed. At the young age of seventy-something, lets hope that this chapter in the witches lives isn’t their epilogue and that they have just enough life in them for one more story—if only we didn’t have to wait another 28 years. 

Carolina Dean

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