The other pleasure this novel offers is the writing and whether Updike is exercising his "good witch" or his bad, he attains simultaneously erudition, comedy, and majesty. Take these two descriptions of the witches, one early in the novel reveling in Sukie's beauty and the other later, basking in the demise of Jane, they exemplify using talents, this case Updike's writing talents, in the service of the light and the dark:
Sukie was the most recently divorced and the youngest of the three. She was a slender redhead, her hair down her back in a sheaf tirmmed straight across and her long arms laden with these freckles the cedar color of pencil shavings. She wore copper bracelets and a pentagram on a cheap thin chain around her throat. What Alexandra, with her heavily Hellenic, twice-cleft fatrues, loved about Sukie's looks was the cheerful simian thrust: Sukie's big teeth pushed her profile below the brief nose out in a curve, a protrusion especially of her upper lip, which was longer and more complex in shape than her lower, with a plumpness on either wide of the center that made even her silences seem puckish, as if she were tasting amusement all the time.
"Isn't this cozy!" Jane Smart cried, coming in late, wearing almost nothing: plastic sandals and a gingham mini with the shoulder straps tied at the back of the neck so as not to mar her tan. She turned a smooth mocha color, but the aged skin under her eyes remained crepey and white and her left leg showed a livid ripple of varicose vein, a little train of half-submerged bumgs, like those murky photographs with which people try to demonstrate the existence of the Loch Ness monster. Still, Jane was vital, a thick-skinned sun hag in her element.
A lusty, energized, potent, and, at times, uncomfortable novel, but the writing is always an alluring pleasure. My other posts on it are here, here and here.
Next up: Stefan Zweig's Twilight and Moonbeam Alley put out in a beautiful compact edition by Pushkin Press on paper so yummy I could eat it.