Updike's adventurous 18th novel--a dystopian romance, set in the year 2020--contrasts intriguingly with last year's generational saga In the Beauty of the Lilies. In a privileged north-of-Boston neighborhood that recalls the hotbeds, so to speak, of such earlier novels as Couples and The Witches of Eastwick, narrator Ben Turnbull, a 66-year-old former investment counselor, lives in placid retirement with his younger second wife Gloria and spends his waning energies in occasional quasi-business trips to his old Boston office, golf with his male buddies, visits to and from his five children and ten grandchildren, and (over) heated dalliances with Deirdre, his favorite young whore, who makes house calls whenever Gloria's away. "The universe is collapsing," Ben opines--and indeed, in his insular postlapsarian little world, citizens pay protection money to competing mobsters (and, later, to Federal Express) in lieu of taxes, and Massachusetts "scrip" has replaced the once almighty dollar following a nuclear war the US lost to China. It's a clever premise, and an effective background for the somewhat attenuated story of Ben's adjustment to the changes in his world and in himself. And the novel contains some of Updike's funniest writing in years (Ben's precariously maintained détente with his energetic scold of a wife is most amusingly described), and his fluid, flexible prose and descriptive precision remain unimpaired. But the story wanders. Ben's many ruminations (science is his avocation), though wonderfully done, are nevertheless digressions that interrupt such far more interesting matters as the fate of a marauding doe that grazes among Gloria's flowers and shrubs, and Ben's avuncular relationship with three teenage "squatters" who appropriate his property and blithely shake him down. And the emphasis on Ben's relentless sex drive--metaphor for the life force or not--becomes, simply, tiresome. Never less than readable, but not nearly the book it might have been. Minor Updike.