I just put down the witches of eastwick by updike earlier today. Frankly, I’m a bit puzzled by what I just read.
It was an odd little book for me. I feel that I “didn’t get it”. I think that there must be more. That I’ve missed the punch line and the joke’s on me. I quite liked Updike and his short stories. Loved the way he massaged nuance into his graceful little plots. How the minutiae of life becomes voluminous under his magnifying eye. Reading Updike is like looking at details through a glass filled with water. The light bends, the edges round, the meniscus thick and stubbornly earnest, an honest skin.
But Witches was different. Is different. Usually I am more sympathetic to characters but I found these witches difficult to like. No, it would be more accurate to say that I found them difficult to hate. They are not terrible women, Sukie and Jane and Lexa, although Jane is borderline. But they are selfish, childish women who are contrasted by other selfish, childish women. I understand that the book is a commentary, a jest at misogyny. It is a book about a woman’s power, about her place via three middle-aging divorcee-cum-witches. I use my Latin purposefully here.
I am not so much disappointed in Updike but in his characters. And maybe that’s how his skill persists and speaks more to my failure as a reader. I hoped these women would do more, achieve self-knowledge, act unselfishly. By the time redemption came, it was unworthy. Their whole freedom came upon divorce, yet none could free themselves of the remnants of their husbands. They took lovers, sought men, and killed for a man, and then left for men. Their whole being, despite proclamations of the power of woman, etc. was wrapped up and tied to a man. Their happiness and unhappiness were so singularly gendered. It is puzzling.
Maybe the message is no message. Maybe women are just as terrible as men – but how silly is that. People are horrible in horrible ways and they happen to be men or women or certain colors or religion. I can’t imagine that Updike would think or plan so narrowly. Maybe it’s okay that books sometimes are filled with not so great folks doing not so great things because life is the meander. Maybe morals are hope and nice to haves. And I should just learn how to read without expectation.