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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: The Witches of Eastwick

Review: The Witches of Eastwick
By John Updike (1984)
· Paperback: 320 pages
· Publisher: Ballantine Books (August 27, 1996)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0449912108
· ISBN-13: 978-0449912102
· Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches

The Witches of Eastwick is another example of a great book being turned into a less than stellar movie. If you’re familiar with the movie, there’s a lot in this book that you’ll find familiar as well. Unlike the movie which was set in the late 1980’s, the book takes place in the fictional town of Eastwick, Rhode Island at the time of the Vietnam War. The story mainly concerns Alexandra, an artist; Jane, a cellist; and Sukie, a columnist. They are in the primes of their lives, each having either left, or been left by, their respective husbands. 

Following the void left by their husbands, the women find an inner power they each posses…the power of witchcraft. These witches, however, are a far cry from the an it harm none variety with which many modern readers in the know are familiar. No, these witches are promiscuous, spiteful, vindictive, and they’re not above putting a hex on their enemies.

Enter Daryl Van Horn. Summoned to town not by the witches magic, by rather by a desire to escape a past life and possibly numerous creditors; Daryl promptly takes possession of and begins remodeling Lenox Manor. One by one, the witches are seduced by Daryl who each takes him as their lover. In the mean time, the witches have conjured a cookie jar in such as way as to cause their enemy (and most outspoken opponent) Felecia Gabriel to vomit all manner of feathers, dirt, pins, etc…which ultimately leads to her murder by Felecia’s husband, who goes on to commit suicide.

Following the death of Felecia and Clyde Gabriel, their children Chris and Jenny return to Eastwick to settle their parent’s affairs. Finding the girl to be sweet, innocent, and accommodating and perhaps even out of a sense of guilt, the witches invite Jenny to participate in their activities with Daryl. However, Jenny proves to be too accommodating and accepts Daryl’s proposal for marriage. It is then that the witches conspire to punish the girl they believe stole their shared lover for herself.

The remainder of the story examines the lives of all those involved as the witch’s curse takes its toll and we are able to also see the consequences of the magic they invoked. In the end, it seems that everyone’s relationship suffers. Will the witches be able to undo the damage they have done? Will they be able to heal the rift that has come between them? Will anything ever be the same?

Prudish types may find the frank and sometimes descriptive depictions of the witches sexual encounters unsavory. I personally did not like the slurs the witches use when referring to men they suspect to be gay. However, as a gay man myself I am not unaccustomed to such prejudice and I chalked it up to the women’s generation.
I really enjoyed the depictions of the witches flavor of witchcraft and found their use of common household items in their spells an excellent example of Kitchen Witchery. At roughly 300 pages Witches isn’t a quick read, as it is filled with a great deal of detail that the author is famous for. Some may feel that the story branches off from it’s self in a few places but it only adds to the overall story, as Witches isn’t just about three women, it’s a story about an entire town and the effects of gossip, scandal, and magic run wild.

Carolina Dean


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