The Widows of Eastwick
by John Updike
(Knopf, $24.95)

John Updike “still wrings more from a sentence than almost anyone else,” said Sam Tanenhaus in The New York Times. In this sequel to his “brilliant” 1984 black comedy, The Witches of Eastwick, Updike gives center stage to the sleepy seaside New England town to which the three title characters have returned. Updike’s prose makes contemporary Eastwick “more sensually real than one’s own neighborhood.” When one widow blames the soullessness of the place on “the death of sin,” we see all of America anew. Unfortunately, Widows is “embarrassingly” poorly constructed, said Christopher Kelly in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The three women we knew as sexually rapacious divorcees in Nixon-era Eastwick take 100 pages to return to the scene of their crimes, and we don’t meet the plot’s antagonist until the novel is two-thirds done. Worse, all three erstwhile witches now sound “like crotchety old men passing along whatever cranky observations occur to them.” In Witches, Updike respected these women’s powers enough to write about them with “awed malice,” said Emily Nussbaum in New York. Now that antipathy has “curdled into something like contempt.”