12 of 16 people found the following review helpful:
August 20, 2004
I might have to amend my review later, because I only finished the book a few hours ago and I'm still trying to take it all in. I might ramble on a little bit, fumbling towards the truth as Foxy more or less says in her last letter to Piet. I'll also admit that I could never finish "Rabbit, Run" because I couldn't stand Rabbit and the miserable world he created for himself.
And in large part the many couples of "Couples" also create their own miserable situations, although I'm still trying to figure out WHY. I suppose a lot of it was wanting to try something new because they were bored with their current mate and wanted a change of scenery or a new adventure. The whole book revolves around the games these couples play as they dance and fornicate their way through the early 60s in suburban Tarbox.
There were far too many couples in this book, so that I could never remember who was married to who and who was sleeping with who and who had slept with who. The saving grace of John Irving's similar "158-Pound Marriage" is there were only two couples to deal with, which was not only easier to keep track of, but I bet it was probably more realistic than thinking half the town is prowling around having affairs. I'm not sure if the statistics would back me up on that or not, but somehow I doubt infidelity was THAT rampant. I like to think the author exaggerated the problem a bit for the sake of making his point about marriage and sex.
Another reviewer mentioned the "hard-won sympathy" for Piet, but I never saw him as sympathetic once he got involved with Foxy. I'm being a prude again here, but anyone who has an affair with a woman who's seven months pregnant will NEVER be sympathetic in my view, no matter how the author tries to redeem him or come up with reasons, although I don't think Updike really had many reasons for why Piet needed to have every woman he ever met. His parents died, he's afraid of death, his wife is untouchable seem to be the justifications, but none would excuse Piet's insatiable appetite for infidelity.
Anyway, in having read a good chunk of "Rabbit, Run" and "Couples", Updike seems to have a great talent at creating characters who may be dull or unpleasant but they are real and multi-faceted. Now days most of the women would be minivan-driving "soccer moms", although in modern times they would probably also have real jobs, which no one except Angela really seemed to have in the book. Tarbox really isn't all that different from all the subdivision communities in
I could have done without the stream-of-consciousness writing that cropped up in many scenes involving Piet--it just gave the narrative a sort of choppy, manic feel at times. I liked the descriptions and unlike other reviewers, I didn't feel it was excessive. The sex talk by today's standards isn't too graphic, but it's still not something you probably want your kids reading. The writing style is challenging, but if you can muddle through you'll feel better about yourself.
When all's said and done, this is not the kind of book I could "enjoy" and I doubt you could either. Updike's dreary view of humanity is not what anyone can find very uplifting or motivational. But it was an intriguing, enlightening book, the kind that made me ask myself questions about the world. That made it worth the read for me, even if I haven't answered all those questions to my satisfaction yet.
If you're ready to accept a challenge, read this book.