Author: John Updike
First published: 1984
Locale: Eastwick, Rhode Island
Plot: Psychological symbolism
Time: The 1960's
Alexandra Spofford, a large, gray-blonde divorcée and mother. She and two fellow divorcées are convinced they have magic powers and explore witchcraft as a form of women's liberation. Together they form an alliance in rebellion against the small-town conventions they believe have inhibited them. Their magic powers, however, not only have a liberating effect but also create mischief. Alexandra turns her former husband into polychrome dust and keeps him in a jar in the cupboard, and the witches raise a thunderstorm to punish some youngsters who call Alexandra a hag. Alexandra is the leader of the coven of three witches because she is the oldest and the earthiest, and she relates most strongly to nature, from which the witches believe they derive their special powers. She is also a sculptor, working in the earthy medium of clay to make figures of female sensuality she calls “bubbies.” The powers that she and the other witches develop eventually lead to mayhem and even murder. They pursue the satanic Darryl Van Horne, and when he chooses Jennifer, a younger woman, they conjure her death. Chastened and guilty, Alexandra marries an art instructor who takes her to Taos, New Mexico.
Jane Smart, the second witch. She is dark and short, and her special talent is music, especially the cello. Like her two friends, she neglects her children in favor of the powerful sisterhood of the witches, and she uses her magic powers in dubious ways. For example, she transforms her former husband into a dried herb hanging in the cellar. In addition, she and the other two women perform such tricks as breaking an old woman's string of pearls, turning tennis balls into bats and toads, and killing innocent puppies and squirrels. The coven of witches disbands after they compete for the attentions of Darryl Van Horne and place a death curse on Jennifer, a young unmarried woman whom Darryl selects over them. Ultimately, Jane uses her powers to attract a new husband, a staid scion of an old Boston family.
Sukie Rougemont, a redhead, the youngest and most recently divorced of the three witches. She also neglects maternal responsibilities to pursue her talents as a writer and to develop her magical powers, which she already has used to transform her former husband into a placemat. Free from patriarchal structures and traditional puritan controls, Sukie has a love affair with Felicia's husband, Clyde; participates with the other two witches in orgies with Darryl Van Horne; and uses her magic powers to inflict illness on her rival, Jennifer. Demoralized, Sukie attracts a salesman of word processors. She writes rather mechanical romantic novels.
Darryl Van Horne, a mysterious, wealthy bachelor who is new to Eastwick. A manipulative psychopath, he entices the witches to his mansion, which he has decorated with black sheets, couches, and walls and where they frolic together, including engaging in an orgy in a hot tub on Halloween. Although he prides himself on his skills as a critic, unlike the witches he is neither creative nor procreative. He may be a metaphysical fantasy created by the witches themselves. Whether imaginary or real, Van Horne is the devil. He may have murdered Jennifer for her money. He runs off to New York afterward with both her fortune and her brother. Unlike the witches, Van Horne has no sympathy for the natural world. He is surrounded by artificial creations such as tennis courts, stereos, and vinyl hamburgers. He denounces nature and all of its works in a sermon he gives at the Unitarian Church titled “This Is a Terrible Creation.” Because of his existential emptiness, he cannot appreciate, for all their moral ambiguity, the beauties of nature, art, or the women of Eastwick.
Brenda Parsley, a married woman and critic of the witches. She takes over the Unitarian Church, running it more efficiently than her husband, but in the process becomes a dreadful woman. She receives her comeuppance when bumblebees and butterflies come out of her mouth as she denounces the witches from her pulpit.
Felicia Gabriel, the mother of Christopher and Jenny Gabriel and ill-tempered wife of the editor of the local newspaper. When she is especially outraged, parrot feathers, dried wasps, and bits of eggshell spew from her mouth. A critic of the witches, she considers herself a virtuous woman devoted to good causes, but she has reserves of malicious energy.
Jennifer Gabriel, an unmarried X-ray technician who rivals the witches for the affections of Darryl Van Horne. Soon after marrying Darryl, she dies of cancer, which may have been caused by the witches, who stick her facsimile with pins.