John Updike’s novel, The Witches of Eastwick, was described as a witty satire on the misogyny of our society. Well-rounded and intelligent jokes bringing attention the continual plight of women? I couldn’t of asked for anything better. Well I could. Because I really didn’t like The Witches of Eastwick.
Set in the late sixties, The Witches of Eastwick follows the lives of three divorced women, Alexandra, Sukie and Jane, who all happen to be witches. Connected to one another both by their powers, but also their contempt for all men, they are known throughout their Rhode Island town, Eastwick, for their promiscuous behaviour, as well as their strange influence they have over married men. Could it be…magic perhaps?
The Witches of Eastwick begins when the rich and elusive, Darryl Van Horne, moves into town, and seduces each of the three women, encouraging them to take full advantage of their powers, while simultaneously creating a divide between the once-close friends. When the young and innocent Jenny enters into the fray, and Darryl apparently takes a romantic shine to her alone, their powers turn for the worse, and they show what they are truly capable of.
The Witches of Eastwick is described as a satire, commentary on the brilliance of women, and as John Updike himself said, a novel about “female power, a power that patriarchal societies have denied”. Only thing is, I wasn’t buying it.
First off, the characters in this novel are awful. Sukie, Jane and Alexandra routinely sleep with married men, believing that they are ‘fixing their marriages’, all while ignoring and forgetting about their own poor children at home. If this were Updike’s take on switching gender roles, then not only is it terribly old-fashioned (men do look after the kids as well nowadays), but it also doesn’t prove anything about ‘female power’. Lazy, cheating women are just as bad as lazy, cheating men, and they’re both people that many would try to avoid.
Then, on top of that, it isn’t until a man enters the fray (and Darryl Van Horne himself doesn’t really seem like all that great a catch), that they finally find their ‘worth’ and the extent of their powers and capabilities. Because, what, they’re regularly playing tennis and giving him blow jobs? Sorry, but once again that seems the opposite of brilliant women. Furthermore, while his presence ignites their powers, he divides them, and they lose the connection that they once had.
Lastly, when a fourth woman, Jenny, gains Darryl’s attention, they all turn on her and show the horrifying extent of their magic, all because he fell in love with her instead of them (or so it appears). Sisterhood, it apparently is not.
While Updike’s writing could of been so satirical that it just went over my head, and all these examples are just his way of showing how we view women in society, and the negative connotations associated with them, I still didn’t enjoy The Witches of Eastwick at all. To be a really great satirist you have to make your point, while also including wit, interest and most importantly, facts. To me, The Witches of Eastwick didn’t nail any of these, and what resulted was a lacklustre, uninteresting and borderline repulsive story about a group of characters that I had no care to know.
Have you read The Witches of Eastwick? Am I being harsh or unfair? Let me know!