Sunday, December 20, 2020

Updike's Witches

I recently did something that I think I have never done before ... I read a couple books and then immediately watched the movie made from one of them. I no longer remember what inspired me to pull from the library stacks The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike. But this late fall, I was off and running/reading.

I have read Updike before. I read several of his books prior to introducing him at the Connecticut Library Association Annual Conference in 2000. After the Conference, I also read the book he was promoting at that time (Gertrude and Claudius) as well as an older collection (Bech is Back - which he most thoughtfully inscribed to me).

This time I did the following in this order:

  1. Read The Witches of Eastwick
  2. Read The Widows of Eastwick
  3. Watched the movie: "The Witches of Eastwick"

The action in The Widows takes place 30 years after the activities of The Witches. The Widows is an interesting take on the aging process, in addition to the other themes which follow from one book to the other. The theme of aging and those changes is a one which Updike explores in other works (most notably to me, the Rabbit series).

I was disappointed and disturbed by the movie adaptation. In both of the books, the women characters (Sukie, Jane, and Alexandra) are portrayed as strong women with a bond with each other, and having developed/found their unique skills which are most powerful when they are together. Darryl as a character arrives in Eastwick after there has already been action from the women. In the movie, however, Darryl (played by Jack Nicholson) is portrayed as the force which develops and binds the women's powers.

In the Wikipedia entry on The Witches (the book) it notes:

Updike described his novel as "about female power, a power that patriarchal societies have denied." Many scholars viewed it as strongly pro-feminist, "an intelligent engagement with feminism, and a rare case of a male novelist writing from women's points of view." Some have expressed concern that the book may be misogynistic, as it seems to reinforce the patriarchal conceptions of women as witches and of women requiring a man for personal growth; others believe that the book may be more of a satire of such ideas.

The movie clearly takes a different tack, as a vehicle for Nicholson, and focuses on his presence as the driving force - and the ending of the movie is a dramatic difference from the book - having repurposed one of the plot lines.

It has been interesting.

I will also confess, that part of the attraction for me was the setting. Eastwick is a fictional town on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. It is a setting with which I am familiar. I could see the setting in my minds' eye ... could hear the voices (and accents) ... could almost smell the salt air, and the mustiness endemic to older, wooden-framed homes near the salt-water coast.

I recommend the books - both of them. The movie, not so much.