Couples all look alike with their clothes on

dust jacket of John Updike's 1968 "Couples"
Couples’ jacket art reproduces William Blake watercolor  “Adam and Eve Sleeping”

John Updike’s 1968 bestseller,  Couples,  is about a clique of 10 couples, which is roughly five times as many as any self-respecting novel should have.

The couples live in a small New England village called Tarbox, somewhere within a longish commute of Boston.

The couples are the usual Kennedy presidency era suburbanites in the 1960s novels that pretend to be literature: hard-drinking, social climbing, sexually voracious.

Updike focuses main on local contractor Piet Hanema, who doesn’t let his devotion to his wife, Angela, interfere with his sex life.

When a new couple come to town, Piet takes up with the already pregnant wife, named Elizabeth but called Foxy, while still obliging other wives of the couples in their clique.

After Foxy has her baby, she’s less interested in her husband than before.

Within weeks, she’s pregnant again, this time with Piet’s child.

Other members of their clique arrange an abortion for Foxy, who promptly confesses all to her husband.

Updike writes delightful sentences, such as, “She studied him as if he were an acquisition that looks different in the home from in the store.”

But delightful sentences don’t make a novel, especially one with character-less characters all of whom look alike with their clothes on.


Couples by John Updike
Alfred A. Knopf, 1968. 458 p. My grade: C-.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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