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THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK

Updike once more, as in A Month of Sundays, is writing in homage to Hawthorne. In a small Rhode Island shore-town, Eastwick, three divorced women and mothers in their late thirties—Jane Smart, a cellist; Alexandra Spofford, a sculptor of small gift-y figurines; Sukie Rougemont, a gossip columnist for the local newspaper—make up a coven: "In the right mood and into their third drinks they could erect a cone of power above them like a tent to the zenith, and know at the base of their bellies who was sick, who was sinking into debt, who Was loved, who was frantic, who was burning, who was asleep in a remission of life's bad luck. . . ." But their witchery, though truly supernatural (supernumerary nipples, flying, telekinesis), is relatively unfocused until the arrival in town of Old Scratch himself: New York-pushy, fast-talking, hot-tub-owning, Pop-art-collecting, science-experimenting Darryl Van Home. And so begin the sabbats, presided over by Darryl—in the hot-tub, on the tennis court, over spicy hors d'oeuvres and sensual massages. But when Jenny, the grown daughter of Sukie's dead lover, arrives to settle her parents' estate, and stays to become Darryl's wife, the magic turns from harmless white to specific black. The witches are jealous, bemused; Jenny soon contracts cancer in accordance with voodoo-doll rituals; when Jenny dies the witches suffer guilt; the town rises up against them with some counter-witchery of its own. (Updike seems to suggest that all women are potential witches.) And, frightened by their own powers, the three turn to conjuring up new husbands for themselves. . . as hagdom closes in. Updike treats much of this as no more than a bagatelle—with some measure of doodling. ("She was in a wool pullover dress scarcely larger than a sweater, sharp orange in color; this color made with the sofa's vile green the arresting clash one finds everywhere in Cezanne's landscapes and that would be ugly were it not so strangely, boldly beautiful.") Elsewhere, the approach is that of social comedy: the time is the late Sixties, with saps of consciousness on the rise. But the novel works best when Updike turns it into Hawthorneesque natural allegory. The witches are body-aware, air-alert, fluid-filled creatures, completely attuned to biology—which allows Updike to write about nature (rank or pretty, raw or stable) more gorgeously, with more painterly effects, than he's ever allowed himself before. The comedy may be less than sure (Darryl/Devil is a too-obvious sleaze); the supernaturalism is a little shtick-y; Updike's odd sensual Protestantism remains murky. But what you keep coming back to, on nearly every page, is Updike's landscapist's paintbox—which is grand and lush and astonishingly fluid.

Pub Date: May 21, 1984

ISBN: 0449912108

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1984

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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