COUPLES by John Updike
Kirkus Star


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The critical contention has been that John Updike is a major talent who has never written a major novel--all have turned in on a limited range of experience. Certainly here there is both a longer and larger view of life than he has achieved so far and Couples, over and above its superficial and prevalent concerns with coupling, is a commentary on America in the '60's, gravid with a sense of loss, of isolation, of devaluation. The vision of the young man who is always the romantic has expanded and indurated: and as a writer Updike deals less in consciously beautiful prose--imagination has to a degree yielded to the observable realities. The novel takes place in a New England town where the couples have formed " a magic circle of friends to keep the night out." Affluence, enlightenment, boredom, and an unspecified despair promotes the casual and condoned la ronde of erotic experience. Particularly for Piet Hanema who has lived "close to the skin" with the presence of death over one shoulder and a somewhat more distant Calvinistic faith over the other ever since his parents died. He is married to the more socially privileged and remote Angela; enjoys momentarily the effortless sexuality of Georgene; then moves on to Foxy Whitman whose marriage has already been emotionally annulled by the "weather proof rightness" of her acceptable but limited husband. "Nature dangles sex to keep us walking toward the cliff." Before he's through, Piet has been there....In what is probably as lyrically lubricious a book to appear in a liberated decade, Updike seems to be saying that in the desperate bind of l'homme moyen sensuel, the only immediate certainty is that of the flesh, even where it is still monitored by conscience and accompanied by an inevitable guilt and survival sadness. It should be read. It is relevant, identifiable and unconditionally involving.
Pub Date: March 12th, 1968
ISBN: 044991190X
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1968


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