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Villagesby John Updike
"[O]f course, you don't read Updike for the characters. You read him for the pleasure of his constant and peculiar ability to narrate one sexual congress on the heels of the last, each with the admirable muscularity of a chef wielding a knife. And in this rampant energy, Villages does not disappoint....In everything [Mackenzie] does, he asserts what he is, Updike's own creation, recognizable and true." Tom Chiarella, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
John Updike's twenty-first novel, a bildungsroman, follows its hero, Owen Mackenzie, from his birth in the semi-rural Pennsylvania town of Willow to his retirement in the rather geriatric community of Haskells Crossing, Massachusetts. In between these two settlements comes Middle Falls, Connecticut, where Owen, an early computer programmer, founds with a partner, Ed Mervine, the successful firm of E-O Data, which is housed in an old gun factory on the Chunkaunkabaug River. Owen's education (Bildung) is not merely technical but liberal, as the humanity of his three villages, especially that of their female citizens, works to disengage him from his youthful innocence. As a child he early felt an abyss of calamity beneath the sunny surface quotidian, yet also had a dreamlike sense of leading a charmed existence. The women of his life, including his wives, Phyllis and Julia, shed what light they can. At one juncture he reflects, "How lovely she is, naked in the dark! How little men deserve the beauty and mercy of women!" His life as a sexual being merges with the communal shelter of villages: "A village is woven of secrets, of truths better left unstated, of houses with less window than opaque wall."
This delightful, witty, passionate novel runs from the Depression era to the early twenty-first century.
"In this 21st novel by one of the premier chroniclers of American life, a man recalls a lifetime spent in New England communities of women. Owen Mackenzie, now in his 70s and living in the small village of Haskell's Crossing, Conn., with his second wife, Julia, spends his days immersed in the daily routines of retirement while reminiscing about his childhood town of Willow, Pa., and the village where he spent his adulthood, Middle Falls, Conn. Though Owen studied at MIT and founded an early computer startup that made him moderately rich, his story is primarily defined by his romantic relationships. He marries his first wife, Phyllis, a classmate at MIT, for her cool beauty, but later decides that he needs a broader range of sexual experience. After a fraught first affair, he learns caution and is able to clandestinely indulge his love of women, until Julia, a minister's wife, comes along and convinces him to embark on a messy divorce and remarriage that indirectly results in Phyllis's accidental death. Owen's obsession with women's bodies and blithe ignorance of their inner lives can sometimes read like a tedious parody of Updike's earlier work, without a sense of humor to imply the author is in on the joke. Yet Updike still writes lovely sentences and creates a believable portrait of the American village, concealing dark secrets but providing a limited stability. 60,000 first printing; BOMC selection. (Oct. 24)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] pleasant if unsurprising novel....Perceptive as usual, and cut through with lovely prose, Villages nonetheless falls short of Updike's adultery classics, 1968's Couples and 1976's exquisite Marry Me. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"A graceful panoramic....Prototypical Updike: made new here and there by his ever-enviable novelistic skills, but marred by its more than passing resemblance to books that he's written too many times already." Kirkus Reviews
"This book gives great pleasure. Some writers get more boring with age, but John Updike just gets more perspicacious. The wealth of connections and imagery increases with the years; the practice of literary expression makes the prose yet more perfect." Fay Weldon, The Washington Post Book World
"As is usual for Updike, this novel is elegantly styled; however, it builds to a less than impressive whole. His lovely sentences are like intricate brickwork, but they ultimately do not add up to a real structure." Booklist
"This book is the literary equivalent of Hoagy Carmichael writing 'Star Dust' for the umpteenth time....Sorry, John, this book may have satisfied you, but it just wasn't good for me." San Jose Mercury News
"Villages...reconnoiters old territory surveyed by Mr. Updike many, many times before....To make matters even worse, Mr. Updike seeds the narrative with smugly reductive generalizations about men and women....In the end, this all makes for a narrow, claustrophobic novel." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"This book is not the author's most stunning but it still shows him a master of the internal landscape — physical and emotional." Boston Herald
"In John Updike's new novel Villages, his 21st, there is a pretty good short story stretched out to a rather flimsy 300+ pages." Rocky Mountain News
"[E]legiac yet erotic....
"A by-the-numbers work.... This is standard Updike: style overrules story....One gets the sense that Updike is coasting, that the literary deja vu one feels after finishing Villages is a sign the well may be running dry for the aging grandmaster." Miami Herald
"Although the novel can be perfectly well appreciated for itself, our pleasure becomes more refined and complicated when specific moments recall ones in earlier books....[A] dimension of seriousness and depth that...is as powerful as anything to be found in Updike." Chicago Tribune
"John Updike may well be America's greatest living novelist, though a strong case could also be made for Philip Roth. A very good novel, Villages represents an old man's paean to the joy, the jouissance, of sex..." Houston Chronicle
"With this elegant, if cold, new novel, John Updike proves once again that no one knows these secret villages better than he." Hartford Courant
"[Q]uintessential Updike — amorous, adulterous enjoyable. By now in his career, though, readers may have traveled down these roads a few too many times. Still, many of his loyalists will find the trip...nothing less than a joyride." Kansas City Star
"Despite its almost unbearable sadness — for older male readers, at least — Villages is an exquisite piece of work. Updike's sentences are always elegant and occasionally zing us with the unexpected, but perfect, phrase." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Between beautiful writing and interesting character study, Villages still brings something to the literary table. But the familiarity of it all is more of a frustration than a comfort." Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram
About the Author
John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954 and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker and since 1957 has lived in Massachusetts. He is the father of four children and the author of more than fifty books, including collections of short stories, poems, and criticism. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal.
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