Yesterday I finished The Widows of Eastwick. My final impressions are similar to those from earlier, when I previous commented on the novel. I like it better than The Witchesof Eastwick, in that John Updike is more successful in capturing the age-related tone than he is at representing women in a more general way. With the earlier novel, I got the feeling that he was trying too hard to get inside the head of women and give them a “fair shake,” trying speak for them. That didn’t come off well. But in Widows, he is much better able to empathize due to common concerns he shares with growing old and looking back on life. At the same time, I’m sorry that Widows was Updike’s last finished novel, because it comes off as lightweight, especially when compared to many of his earlier works. Too bad he couldn’t have gone out with something like a Ravelstein, which was an amazing last gasp at novel-making. Perhaps his final collection of stories, My Father’s Tears, is better executed and more memorable. That’s on my “to read” list.
Another thing about the Eastwick novels is that they don’t fully capture the times, or at least transcend their times, as the does the Rabbit books. The latter were unique in that they were able to pinpoint and illustrate the moments they were trying to recreate–the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s–while at the same time speaking in a broader way about more humanistic issues that aren’t anchored to specific moments in post-war America. In this way, the Rabbit books were insightful inventories that also served as philosophic reflections. The Eastwick novels fail to measure up. For example, when even in Widows, whose cultural frame is just yesterday, Updike has Alexandra and Sukie comment on contemporary pop culture–from music to fashion to computers–it seems rather dry and dated. Not only do the focalizers (such as Suki, for example, in her letter to Alexandra toward the end) come across as fuddy-duddies, but the author does as well. Maybe I’m being unfair to Updike here. And perhaps the Eastwick novels were never meant to aspire to what Updike did with Harry Angstrom’s story. Still, I was expecting a bit more.