Friday, January 17, 2014

The Witches of Eastwick

The Witches of Eastwick was written by John Updike in 1984 and is the story of a coven of three witches living in the small town of Eastwick, Rhode Island, during the period of the Vietnam War. We are introduced to Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie, three divorced women in their early to mid 30's, witches created by the very act of leaving and being leaved by their husbands. Each woman has developed certain artistic leanings. Alexandra sculpts small figurines, Jane plays the cello, and Sukie is a writer for a local flyer. In their regular meetings, the women consolidate their powers through small spells, acid gossip about the townsfolks, and comparing notes regarding their unending affairs with the unhappily married men in their town. Their existence is more rooted in bored maliciousness than overt or purposed evil.

Their outlooks and ambitions change when a man named Darryl Van Horne moves to town after buying a shuttered mansion. There are rumors that he is a wealthy scientist and inventor. Subtly and with purpose he seduces each of the witches, leading them to strengthen their gifts. Before the women even realize it, they have fallen under the dark spell of this Svengali. Visits of the coven to his mansion become a nightly orgy of sex, drugs, and debauchery. Soon the witches take it upon themselves to cast deadly spells on the women of the town who they feel have gotten in their way. One such victim is survived by her 20-something children Jenny and Christopher. Sukie invites the seemingly innocent children to one of the coven's gatherings at the mansion and before anyone realizes it, Jenny has taken Darryl's attention and royally mucked up their gatherings. The witches then cast a deadly spell on Jenny and we learn that Darryl is not who he led folks to believe he was.

The story is not necessarily a story with a particular agenda or a deep message. It was written during a time when women were struggling to achieve equality with men and, in fact, were beginning to make some marked progress. As such, this novel was notable as the first Updike work so dominated by female characters. The makeup of each of the women was quite well developed, including their humanity, spirit, worries, eccentricities, muses, and, of course, their wicked streaks. The story continues with the 2008 sequel, The Widows of Eastwick, which I will read next.