Read Couples by John Updike Online


An intoxicating yet sensitive novel about the sexual experiences of ten couples from Tarbox, New England. Well-to-do, sociable, articulate but dangerously unfulfilled; they play word games in the evening and adultery all year round....

Title : Couples
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780141188980
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 458 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Couples Reviews

  • Julie
    2018-11-19 02:59

    What is it that Jack says to Ennis in Brokeback Mountain? “I wish I knew how to quit you?” I think that's it, and that's exactly what I want to say to John Updike. . . I wish I knew how to quit you.I wish I knew how to quit you, John, quit this relationship I've gotten myself into with you. There are no cliffhangers here, no outbursts of laughter or joy, just a whole lot of painful examinations of life and much unwanted talk of our impending deaths.So, why do I stay? Is it the sex?Mmmm, yes, it could be the sex. The sex is great. Oh, baby, it's so great. Well, most of the time, like when you aim for the right orifice. But you don't, John, do you? You don't always aim for the right door, do you, John (and don't tell me that it was just a slip)!And, on top of that. . . you smoke! Ugh! There's nothing worse than having you light up, after you've had your way with me, and then blowing that nasty smoke in my face as you then wonder aloud how we're both going to die.So, why do I stick around, even after you ignore me, ignore me multiple times in a row, when my response to your hand on my hip is a respectful not tonight dear?Why, John, why?Why can't I quit you?Oh, I know why.Because you're mother fucking brilliant.

  • Eric
    2018-11-20 03:13

    I’m honestly a bit surprised that I picked this up. To my prejudices it was the jejune, possibly self-caricatural big bestseller, the book whose fame caused every obituary writer to narrowly cast Updike as a chronicler of upper-middle class New England marriages (Rabbit is a Pennsylvanian petit-bourgeois, as it happens). I had heard plenty of bad reports—-from personal friends, from distantly eminent judges (Martin Amis called it a “false summit” of the Updike oeuvre). But I was at a library sale, and it was $2, and the jacket photo was so vintage Updike, with his quizzical smirk, seersucker shirt tucked into chinos, tanned forearms, and behind him a wall of weathered Nantuckety beach house shingle. And at that sale a few weeks previous I had bought a copy The Stories of John Cheever, and had read so many that I wanted more midcentury New England agnst, more communter trains and cocktail shakers and girdles, and the sale also had stacks of old early 1960s issues of LIFE that nobody bought but contained the ads of that world, ads for cheap vernacular bourbon and Hi-Fi and convertibles that you drive a blond to the beach in. So I had to buy Couples. How bad could it be? Updike long ago entered my personal pantheon of writers (James, Nabokov, Edmund White) whose least distinguished books are readable, so great is my relish of their phrasing and perception. I wasn’t expecting much but I thought it would be fun. Turns out, this is the true trial of an Updike-lover. I passed, and was rewarded; but much in this book is bad. For one, there are too many people. 10 couples, 20 rather boring and/or repellent characters entangled with each other in adulterous affairs past, ongoing, and just dawning. Piet Hanema, like Updike a Dutch-descended sensualist Christian, churchgoing but priapic, serves as a sturdy enough platform for Updike’s observatory lyricism (well, except for the painfully derivative Joycean stream-of-consciousness); and Piet’s wife and daughters are finely drawn; but the rest of these people just suck. So much dialogue! The vast middle of the novel is devoted to seemingly endless transcripts of middlebrow cocktail party ruminations; to feeble flirty jokes, soporific gossip, booze-addled attempts to apply half-remembered Freudian and anthropological terms to their ennui. Updike was asleep at the wheel for much this one. He does the tense socializing of outwardly friendly but lustful and rivalrous couples so much better in Rabbit Is Rich, in the country club scenes, where the number of couples is manageably fewer and they are all interesting, or at least relevant to Rabbit’s story. Updike also indulges some wannabe-comic but totally unfunny racial characterization. John Ong, a Korean, is allowed one trait: unintelligible English. And Ben Saltz, a Jew, is ponderous and pushy; he also reads Commentary. There is also excruciatingly metaphorical sex. Less than you’d expect in a 400+ page novel about suburban swingers, but still quite a bit. Piet and the very pregnant Foxy Whitman have astronomical sex:Their lovemaking lunar, revolving frictionless around the planet of her womb. The crescent bits of ass his tongue could touch below her cunt’s petals. Her far-off cries, eclipsed. As I neared the last of the novel’s four mega-chapters, I began to think that writing this ridiculous could have been avoided if Piet, as much I favored him above the others, hadn’t been the surrogate intelligence of the book. His wide-eyed wonder at the world was unsuited to a catalogue of bored bed-hopping—-to make such action interesting Updike needed command of a Gallic, cynical tone; this should have been a novel of malicious manners, modeled on the novel of pitilessly dissected motives that is, said W.M. Spackman, one of the glories of French literature--Les Liaisons dangereuses, Madame Bovary. But as I said, these were my thoughts before starting the last section, which turned out to be uninterruptedly awesome, an 80-page clean sprint of wisdom and insight and skill. Updike even redeems his condescending characterization of John Ong with the moving scene in Ong’s hospice room. The chatty extraneous couples recede and it becomes all about Piet’s disintegrating marriage, his apartmented singleness, his reunion with Foxy. The tone is far-seeing, laconic, epilogic. Updike drops on you the crushing sadness of just starting to move on--and not just from a failed relationship, but from friendship, from mere acquaintance (“what have they forgotten, what have they lost?” asks the narrator’s first wife in Cheever’s “The Seaside Houses,” like Couples a story about sundering and new selves and lost time set against a backdrop of New England beaches). Suddenly, Updike’s melancholic attention, throughout the book, to the mutations and minute light effects of seasonal change came to have a thematic resonance; I remembered that the action takes place over just a year, a blip in the lives of people. Opening to my marker last night, I steeled myself for a weary slog to the end; I closed the novel with a big smile and my brain buzzing. That’s what I read Updike for.

  • Don
    2018-12-11 02:57

    What's wonderful and aggravating about Updike all in one book. We see the same recycled themes here (parts feel very much like Marry Me and the Rabbit series, among others), which isn't a bad thing. Updike loves to focus on adultery, and he does so as well as anyone I know. Some great characters here. Love the Piet storyline and all the characters involved in it. Also love the side-story about the swinging couple; really interesting stuff there that, unfortunately, he never really comes back to. The book, like many Updike books, feels too long. His descriptions are often beautiful -- but, as usual, he gives us too many (for my way of thinking, far too many) of them. I found myself skimming many of the scenes describing the beautiful (and fucking boring) New England coast. Aside from the Rabbit books, probably my favorite Updike. Despite its flaws, there is so much life and energy in this book. Highly recommended.

  • Michael Finocchiaro
    2018-11-19 02:04

    Nobody writes about infidelity quite as good as Updike. Well, Roth sometimes gets close, but particularly in Couples, the disintegration of the various couples in the small New England town is described with painful realism by John Updike. Each character is fully developed and is sometimes endearing, sometimes enraging but always compelling. After the Rabbit series, this was my favorite Updike book.

  • brian
    2018-11-19 02:55

    one reads a lot of this about updike: “it’s really well written, but…”, “the prose soars, but…”, “the writing was great, but…”you don’t see a lot of this regarding vincent van gogh: “it’s really well painted, but…”, “the brush strokes are nice but… isn’t he just painting a flower? or some wheat? or a dirty bar?” an imperfect analogy, but close enough. updike digests reality and spits it out with such force and kaleidoscopic beauty i’d compare his description of reality against reality itself as i would vincent’s Starry Starry Night against any actual night sky all splattered out with stars. updike might harp on a few larger themes, but after finishing six novels (and countless short stories) it'd be tough not to realize that what updike’s all about is expressing what it means to be alive in a world of other people with the knowledge that we will die alone. or, as one character explains it to his friends:“We’re all put here to humanize each other.”it’s ugly work. and no one does it better than updike.but updike’s no romantic. no way. if his contemporaries philip roth and norman mailer are john ford with their mythic landscapes and smashed heroic myths, then updike has gotta be yazusiro ozu with his small domestic dramas and devestating mini-heartbreaks. when one character realizes:“How plausible it was to die, how death, far from invading Earth like a meteor, occurs on the same plane as birth and marriage and the arrival of the daily mail”it says it all.Musee des Beaux Arts W.H. Auden About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters; how well, they understood Its human position; how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

  • Rebecca F.
    2018-11-19 20:10

    Maybe I'm an idealist when it comes to matter of the heart, romantic idiom, love and marriage, so it is hard for me to grasp the reality that some people actually live(d) as described in this book. But with an entire novel (Couples) and a good part of at least two of the Rabbit books dedicated to the scenario of partner "swapping" and "swinging," and other forms of adultery (a.k.a. cheating), I am pushed to accept that not only does this behavior exist, but that author John Updike actually did it. Not as strong as some of his other works, this book kind of floats along with a sense of apathy and detachment, a kind of mirror of the main character, Piet Hanema, the catalyst of community-wide relationship destruction in a small New England town in the early-mid '60s. Couples rests on the idea that everyone is unsatisfied, unfulfilled and unhappy in their marriages, and that good times are only to be found outside the "sacred bond." I found a lot of similarity between the scenarios presented in this book and the recent AMC original TV series "Mad Men," which is set around the same time. It's an interesting snapshot of the period. Sexuality really seemed to be "on the verge" of something, perhaps fueled by and entwined with the popularization of psychotherapy for the masses, early women's lib, Cold War anxiety, the rise of the middle class and other socio-political realities of the time. As far as Updike's "heroes" go, Piet is much harder to like than Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom; he's also not as well drawn. The best character in Couples is the villain/anti-hero, Freddy Thorne. He's got some incredibly sharp and funny lines.

  • Jason Pettus
    2018-12-10 22:09

    (In November 2015, my rare-book service sold a first edition, first printing of John Updike's Couples through our eBay account []. Below is the write-up I did for its listing.)Like so many of the great authors of the Postmodernist era, John Updike by the late 1960s had already established himself through the usual channels of the Mid-Century Modernist age before -- he had been a staff writer for The New Yorker, where he had come directly after his stint at the Harvard Lampoon, a prim and erudite New Englander whose precious Kennedy-era books had already garnered such accolades as the National Book Award. Ah, but then in 1968, Updike published the scandalous Couples, the moment one could argue that he went from merely a well-respected academic writer to a national celebrity; for among other things, the novel was the first mainstream book in American history to tackle the subjects of suburban wife-swapping parties and casual drug use, which brought the topics into the realm of the national "establishment" conversation for the first time, a huge bestseller that coined the phrase "post-Pill paradise" and which landed Updike on the cover of Time magazine, serving as a rallying cry for sexual freedom during the countercultural years when this first came out. (And of course, it didn't hurt the book's salacious reputation that Updike had based the anecdotes on the true stories from his real set of upper-middle-class suburban friends in Ipswitch, Massachusetts, a shocking development in reserved New England which made the book the subject of whispered conversations there for literally decades afterwards.) When combined with Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint and Gore Vidal's Myra Beckinridge, all three of which came out in the same 12-month period, Couples marks a watershed moment in American literary history, the messy and violent wrenching of the smooth and slick Modernist era into what eventually became the Postmodernist one; and for anyone interested in collecting first editions from this period, this is an absolutely must-have acquisition, being sold at a premium price today because of the exquisite condition of this particular copy (but see "Condition" below for more on that).

  • Vit Babenco
    2018-11-20 04:11

    “Thou shalt not commit adultery” – Exodus 20:14. But days in a small town are empty and everyone needs something to fill the hole in one’s day to day living. So adultery becomes practically the only entertainment and the transgression of this commandment is no longer sin but bliss…“She seemed to float on her bed at a level of bliss little altered by his coming and going and thus worked upon him a challenge; at last she confessed he was hurting her and curled one finger around the back of his ear to thank him. She was his smallest woman, his most passive, and his most remote, in these mournful throes, from speech or any question.”But walking on thin ice of fornication slowly makes life for the all participants more and more complicated…I think now Couples is purely interesting in showing atmosphere of the time and trivia of the period it tells us about.

  • Claire Fuller
    2018-12-11 00:59

    This was my first read of John Updike. Everyone who heard that I was reading it said that they'd read it when they were a teenager, and all they remembered was how 'saucy' it was. And it is, there's quite a bit of literary sex, and philandering. I did really enjoy the writing, Updike's amazing use of language to describe places and people, but it's also a very dense book, sometimes so heavy going, so full to the brim with language, that I wanted to get to the end, and now I feel the need for something lighter and shorter. I sometimes had some problems with how articulate and emotionally intelligent every single character was, but then I would forgive Updike this because it allowed his wonderful writing to just flow through my brain. The ending was also odd, just a quick summing up of all ten main over two pages, as if even Updike had had enough of them.

  • Bonnie
    2018-11-14 01:14

    This book reminded me of my mother; one she may have read with pink edged pages, copyright 1968, the price on the cover $1.25 (not even an ISBN number). I picked up this one for its reputation for sex - and I was not disappointed.But that's not why I gave it five stars. John Updike is a dazzling wordsmith. Everything from the imagery to the depth of his characters to the story line was top notch. I'd never read such a vivid representation of an asshole as I have with Piet Hanema. Of course, it was fun to compare the current paradigms with the ones written decades ago - his use of the word "negro" (negress even), the rabbit test, the surprising concern for climate change and how political discussions (relying on the government, foreign affairs) STILL haven't changed.His admiring descriptions of an overweight woman and how everyone found her sexually attractive (or was it her money?) were puzzling. I also found it odd how these people can be so insulting to each other and play it off like it's no big deal. The prurient aspects of this novel, though, were the best. He somehow achieved it without being trashy. I'll definitely have to check out more Updike. Favorite (well, one of my favorite) quote: "Convolute cranny, hair and air, ambrosial chalice where seed can cling." (poetry!)

  • Jos
    2018-11-19 19:58

    In another review of another book Updike's work was described as representing the post-war 20th century experience. Specifically, the WASP experience with the occasional catholic and jew thrown in the mix. Not being American and having the 21st century, this is threatening his work with obsolescence. Luckily, some of this experience is universally human and lasting, making Couples a worthwile read today.It's about ten couples living in imaginary Tarbox, a small former fishermen's town about an hour south of Boston. These couples all moved there in the last years, gentrification in the early 60's. The main character is Piet Hanema, having affairs with four of the befriended couples female part. The other main character is Elizabeth 'Foxy' Whitman, newly moved to Tarbox in a house that Piet's wife Angela wanted to have. Foxy and her husband Ken are intellectuals from Cambridge. After years of living together and building up a career for Ken, Foxy is finally pregnant, their relationship merely being the right thing to do socially. The full cast (*affairs/sex):- Piet and Angela Hanema (*Freddy - attempted)- Ken and “Foxy” Whitman (*Piet)- Roger (potentially homosexual) and Bea Guerin (*Piet)- Frank and Janet Appleby (*Harold)- Harold and Marcia Smith / “little-Smith” (*Frank)- Freddy and Georgene Thorne (*Piet)- Matt (Piet's business partner as contractor) and Terry Gallagher (*her pottery teacher)- Eddie and Carol Constantine (*unclear: foursome with Ben and Irene?, Piet)- Ben and Irene Saltz (*see above)- John and Bernadette OngThe couples are occupying themselves with cocktail parties, joint sports activities, games and adultery. While the couples mostly know of each others' affairs, they keep up the semblance of order, talking business or working socially. The provocative games played at their parties are administered by Freddy as master of ceremony and sower of strife. Religion is an issue for some of them, Piet, Foxy, Matt, the Saltzes. Cuba crisis, the Kennedy assassination, Christine Keeler form the background and provide the above mentioned American experience of the 20th century. In these background parts, obsolescence is palpable. Lurking underneath the surface, being the driving force behind all their social interactions, is adultery. Updike manages the rare feat to write sex scenes that aren't awkward. The glass house breaks when Ken finds out that Foxy was pregnant again shortly after her childbirth by Piet and got an abortion which was organized by Freddy. Suffice to say that I found the end very satisfying due to the introduced tone of eternal renewal. Not only in the couples' lifes, also in Tarbox, which is further renewed by more couples, keeping themselves as separate from our couples as they did from the older habitants of Tarbox.

  • Sandra Barron
    2018-11-22 01:58

    I came to this book purposefully, wanting to engage in mental conversation about couples in the suburbs of New England. I have very recently been reading other (similar) authors on the same subject: Fitzgerald (Tender is the Night, anyone?) Cheever, Yates (Revolutionary Road is a cousin, theme-wise). I’m not one to call these books “outdated” as some people have, as I usually find that 90% is universal and familiar in social behavior today. Couples, however, did feel dated because of the focus on the impact of the birth control pill and Updike’s intent to shock the reader with blasphemy of the church(yawn). That aside, I’m left with a very slow book that has some incredibly beautiful sentences (the sexual descriptions are so vivid and specific and that you’ll want a shower each time you finish a chapter). Gorgeous imagery means I liked it, I appreciated it, I’m glad I read it, but I didn’t love it. I found the characters to be shallow, immoral, callous, and not capable of real love. What is sex without emotion? You want to yearn with the characters, not just watch them bed hop. This novel might have also been titled "SWINGERS". The pace picks up at the end, and when the consequences of promiscuity come raining down, you are entertained but emotionally empty.

  • Ann
    2018-12-02 00:12

    I read this book solely because it was once bestowed what I think is the most unforgettable blurb of all time: the author's wife once described it as "wading through pubic hair." Obviously, it was only a matter of time before I read Couples. Don't be like me. Don't read Couples.Ok, now some disclaimers! This is the only Updike I've ever read (except for "Fellatio", surely The Worst Poem Ever Written, and I'm really more embarrassed for him than angry at him for writing it), so I've no comparison, or insights into the prose itself, but I imagine that even for the gentleman's fans, this one is for completists only. Let's see, what else? Maybe I should say that I don't normally consider myself a prude, but I felt positively relieved when this book was over. What got my goat, I think, was not the sexuality (it's frank, but not intrusive, and whoever talks about only that is missing the - no, at least two points) but a particular branch of masculinity that I'm nervous about attempting to describe lest it reveal me as the self-hating, non-lady-of-the-movement, unliberated girl (I mean, woman!) that I am.

  • Ron
    2018-11-15 20:13

    I haven't read anything by John Updike for years so I picked up "Couples" at the library just so I could switch over to a prominent American writer for a change of pace. One of his most read books, "Couples" deals with the "new morality" that took hold amongst the young surburbanite married couples starting in the early 60's. Updike portrays this suburban culture in graphic, explicit terms, painting a picture of almost total inmorality amoung the couples of the town of "Tarbox". Even in 2011 terms the changing relationships seem excessive but in Updike's mind at least must have existed. Good book if you're open minded and not too prudish.

  • Cecily
    2018-11-26 21:58

    60's wife swapping in New England - hence rather confusing at first re who is married to who, who is having an affair with who, who children belong to etc. Wonderfully poignant and evocative metaphors and descriptive passages; other bits are deliberately disjointed, more like stream-of-consciousness.

  • Edward
    2018-12-09 00:20

    Did a review of this book here:

  • Diana
    2018-11-22 21:16

    "Двойки" напомня много на написаната 11 години по-късно "Ожени се за мен". Няколкото семейства са разширена версия на нейните две двойки. Образуват затворен кръг в идилично и елегантно предградие на Бостън - едно голямо семейство, което прави буквално всичко заедно, тайно или съвсем открито, в различни конфигурации от пол, възраст, социален статус, етнос, образование и религия. Едната част от ежедневието им е улегнала и нормална, другата - колкото скандализираща и порочна, толкова и първично човешка и обяснима.Ъпдайк е много добър разказвач, увлича, а еротиката му е обилна, но истинска, ненатрапчива и красива. И макар скандалното и сексът (като освобождаване, прошка, извинение, бягство, сбогуване, навик, спорт, емоция, желание, сделка или отмъщение) са видимите водещи нишки, под тях има много откровени въпроси и отговори, които поради страх, нежелание или инерция често се подминават.Романът определено не е за пуритани, но би трябвало да се прочете от повече хора именно заради темите, които засяга - малките неща, които събират, влюбват, отчуждават и разделят една двойка, трудният избор да бъде ли спасена и на каква цена, тънката граница между любов, привързаност, нагон и навик, непредвидимият изход от борбата между разум и чувства, красиво маскираната като обич или уважение лъжа, празнотата, по-страшна и депресираща не в другата половина на леглото, а като липса на родител и партньор, самотата сред хората, последствията от премълчавани желания и неслучили се разговори, разтегливите граници на личния морал.С проблемите и вълненията на обикновените хора "Двойки" е много повече човечна и вълнуваща, отколкото скандална книга.

  • Josh Boardman
    2018-11-11 23:23

    I don't think I can be disappointed with Updike. I know I'm wrong. I'll read a stinker soon enough (maybe his post-apocalyptic or apocalyptic or whatever it is book?), but in the mean time, he has officially become my favorite writer (for a while, of his class). His narration is so spotless, and always integrated seamlessly with his gorgeous descriptions and probably unintentionally hilarious dialogue. He's just such a cynical old dad, I love it. This book is ridiculous. Summarize it to friends, and they'll be aghast.

  • Naomi Zener
    2018-12-02 04:22

    I had to quit 110 pages in. The prose was overwritten and the story was boring. Perhaps it was scandalous at the time of publication, but it was not for me. I couldn't get into the author's style of writing--perhaps others will enjoy it, but it was not for me.

  • C. L.
    2018-12-04 00:01

    Read this as assigned in a course titled "developmental psychology" as the study of the adult self. A good story that gave a lesson on empathy.

  • Philip
    2018-11-20 23:09

    Sixties somethingsThe early nineteen sixties beckoned on a decade of change. Not only did the world shake off most of the remnants of its most recent global war, not only did Europe’s defeated former colonial powers almost complete their American-dictated divestment of their assets, not only did capitalism institutionalise the shape of globalised future, but also, apparently, married people discovered sex. But not, for the purposes of Couples by John Updike, with their legal partners…John Updike published Couples in 1968, so as the decade went, the novel was already something of a retrospective, a conscious revisiting of years of change. John F Kennedy was shot. Cuban missiles suffered their crises. There was probably the occasional sporting event. Wars turned cold. Vietnam was still just a country. Much of contemporary life, however, seemed to by-pass Tarbox, a New England residential area in the academic commuter belt. Methods of contraception in many ways dominated life in the chessboard of this community, where moves made in private produced their perhaps inevitable physical responses alongside personal and social consequences, both intended and not.Couples looks at the lives of several Tarbox types. Each relationship has its own foibles. Each one has its man who is doing his best to be a man, and each has its woman who aspires to her own brand of perfection. Eventually the story focuses on one particular relationship, that of Piet and Foxy, pursued despite their mutual marital partners.As ever with John Updike, the sex is both voluminous and throbbing. Each encounter seems to rediscover that thrill of first touch, the transport of discovery. But also guilt begins to build its walls of deception as the habit sets. There are consequences, not only for partners, but also for children and even community. And, in an age when conception can be avoided, both bio-chemically and mechanically, there can still be other consequences that can prove to be even more far-reaching, and provoke visits to the dentist.The couples in Couples begin their communal voyage of discovery believing, perhaps like Columbus at the behest of Spanish monarchs, themselves a couple, that the world was about to begin anew, especially and just fort them. Also for them, as for Columbus, the journey was to prove a long one despite the fact that, certainly in twenty-first century terms, it does not go very far. For men and women conjoined, however, it’s about as far as it ever gets, and further than many might venture. When a long way from the comforts of home, many of us might feel the touch of insecurity. And so it is for Tarbox people for whom, embarking upon their voyages of self-discovery outside their homely security, initial wonder at novelty soon engenders new doubt. Late on, John Updike notes that “We are all exiles who need to bathe in the irrational”. We know it’s not going to do us any good, but still we indulge. The compulsion is complete, perhaps inevitable, and thus the reminder that once through life is all we have is duly delivered, but much later, of course, that we really need to hear it. It has passed by before we have noticed.Like all voyages of discovery, John Updike’s Couples is a dated experience and a long one at that. But like all dated material, if it faithfully reflects and truly inhabits its own time, its journey is still worth the effort, its results permanently revelatory. The respectable normality that John Updike eventually imposes on his straying sheep reminds us that though new knowledge changes assumptions and new gadgets might render a different sheen onto the surface of life, we are still very much on the same voyage, whatever the age.

  • Nick Duretta
    2018-11-20 00:58

    This is certainly the most cynical novel about marriage I have ever read, although it is important to place it in its day. (It was published in 1968 but the story takes place in 1963.) The couples of the title are all relatively young, some starting to raise families, moneyed and adrift in a bucolic suburbia outside of Boston. Their town has puritanical street names like Divinity, Hope and Charity. Sexual liberation has arrived, and few among this bunch can resist its allure. Soon the mate-swapping begins, fueled by a raft of insecurities, neuroses and jealousies. With the adulteries come lies and deceits. There are no star-crossed, fairy-tale loves in this book; marriage is an inevitable trap everyone must escape from. No one is truly happy, and there is a price to be paid. 'They had been let into God's playroom,' Updike writes, 'and been happy together on the floor all afternoon, but the time had come to return the toys to their boxes and put the chairs against the wall.' Piet, the male half of the novel's primary couple, is a serial and almost subconsciously-driven adulterer; his ultimate fate (marrying one of the wives with whom he had a dalliance) seems more of a cruel than a desirable fate. Updike is a splendid stylist, but there is definitely moral condemnation here. You don't feel that he truly likes any of his characters. He feels that even God would agree with him: at the end of the novel a bolt of lightning strikes the town's church and it burns to the ground. Such a book could never be written today; the couples would be much too self-aware and, although still morally flawed, not as prone to salve their flaws through sex and multiple partners. Today, perhaps, it would be something worse.

  • Brian
    2018-11-28 23:22

    Rereading this book proved a doubly nostalgic experience. I first read Couples in 1990, when it was the first novel by Updike I approached; I enjoyed it then, especially for the evocation of my old home area and the shadows that so many people I knew growing up cast on the characters Updike creates (my father sold Updike his first house in Ipswich, my aunt was the organist at the church on the hill that is struck by lightening – in realty and in the novel). rereading it with the benefit of a couple more decades of living – and having read many more of Updike's novels – i'm still taken in by Couples' vivid portrayal of place (the north shore of Boston masquerading as the south), but even more by the richness and beauty of Updike's language, something that I found wanting in his later fiction. Of course the rather dreary plot of infidelity and wife-swapping does seem a bit dated nowadays, but more striking is the interior mindset of Piet Hanema, the principal philanderer and main character: he seems to go (mostly) blithely through his amorous exploits, moving from one married woman to another with instinctive but almost unconscious decision-making; but the end, just as it seems he'll get his comeuppance, Updike sends him off to start a new life away from Tarbox with the youngest of his inamoratas (whom he, not incidentally, impregnated and then helped to get an abortion). In someone else's hands, Piet might seem a callow and amoral perpetrator of mayhem in his community; Updike somehow enables Piet to maintain his sweet and rather winning innocence. Still, what I shall remember most from Couples is the poetry of the language.

  • Nick Hahn
    2018-11-27 22:18

    This book is thoroughly depressing. Now I've just recently finished A Farewell to Arms and that book was also thoroughly depressing but Couples is an entirely different species of depressing in that you can't believe how depraved these people are. As someone who is constantly called a hopeless romantic, it is shocking to see some of the things these married couples will do (or perhaps it is a sad wake up call?). Of course it goes without saying that John Updike once again proves himself as a gifted writer. He has an ability to string together words and sentences that I believe is unmatched. It's just so ironic that these poetic and beautiful sentences are used to describe such awful people. The book also has its fair share of profound symbolism especially centered around religion. The characters in Couples have found a way to kill God and suffer in trying to replace him. It's interesting too since Updike has said before that the setting for most of his writing is "American small town, Protestant middle class." Couples for me was like an interesting case study. I felt disgusted with these people yet also intrigued and hungry to know more. As the reader, you are like a new comer to Tarbox, feeling lost with trying to match names with people especially in the first hundred pages of the book. But as you find out more and more gossip about who's been up to what with who, you find yourself just as entangled and a part of the mess as the characters. The book is challenging, shocking, beautiful, tragic, and completely debauched.

  • Rachel
    2018-11-21 01:11

    (writen 6-04)This was the closest thing to a romance novel I have probably ever read, although I think it has literary value. I heard that when it came out it had some of the raciest scenes - I guess the public was ready though because it was a best-seller. Oh, the couples of Tarbox, with its streets ironically named Charity and Purity and Chastity, with the big church on the hill. Piet sure is a ladies' man, a trait which causes his downfall in the end. Is happiness worth two broken families? Maybe. Updike's descriptions are superb:"For the forms of the country club they substituted informal membership in a circle of friends and participation in a cycle of parties and games... they settled in unthought-of places, in pastoral mill towns like Tarbox, and tried to improvise here a fresh way of life. Virtue was no longer sought in temple or marketplace but in the home - one's own home, and then the homes of one's friends." 114Meaning of life, by Freddy:"We're all put here to humanize each other." 158"[Piet] saw plunging, how plausible it was to die, how death, far from invading earth like a meteor, occurs on the same plan as birth and marriage and the arrival of the daily mail." 449

  • Carla Stafford
    2018-11-24 03:17

    I picked this book up on a whim at the library. I have no previous John Updike experience, so less than little, that until halfway through this novel-I thought John Updike and John Irving were one in the same. Basically this novel is about a bunch of swinging couples in Tarbox, a community near Boston-I think. Angela and Peit Hanema are the focus...he is unfaithful, and she is cold. They are not part of the swinging couples in their community, but they are part of their circle. There are a couple other major ish characters-Freddy and Foxy. It seemed to me that there was this ambitious play at symbolism-guilt, piety, adultery, burning churches, an all seeing rooster who is the closest the community has to God...but it was over five hundred pages-and I got restless before I reached enlightenment. The endless parade of couples confused me. And as far as I can figure there was no resolution-which I am okay with, and I imagine was intentional...but it sort of seemed like the author got bored too. I guess I felt for Piet, in a way-but I never really got him-felt like he never got himself...Anyway...I wouldn't recommend it, but didn't feel-have never really felt, that reading this (any) novel was a waste of time.

  • Heather
    2018-12-09 03:07

    What I learned from this book...With a name like "Foxy," it is very likely you will have an affair with the earthy married contractor who's remodeling your house. If your husband is a super-brainy scientist exploring the mysteries of life at the cellular level, it is very likely he will neglect your emotional and sexual needs, and deny you a child for years until your marriage is almost curdled.If you finally do get pregnant, your brainy husband will be turned off but the earthy married contractor will be hot for your pregnant bod.When you have the baby, brainy husband will be disgusted and earthy lover will feel displaced and end the affair.If you have sex one last time with earthy lover, you'll get pregnant again.If you need an illegal abortion, ask your dentist. Your married, woman-hating, crypto-homosexual dentist.Men are pigs, women are whores.Men hate women, and women hate women too.This book reminded me of a line in the very funny 1980s novel "Class Porn" by Molly Hite, where the heroine is reminiscing about her sex life with her ex-husband in the early 1960s: "he expected me to take pleasure in such anatomically removed events as his orgasm."

  • Cari
    2018-11-17 02:17

    I gave this book 2 stars, because like the other Updike I've read (Rabbit, Run), there is no denying that Couples is well-written. However, also like Rabbit, Run, I just didn't like it. I don't enjoy Updike's characters - I find them all completely unsympathetic. This novel seems to be about the danger of prescriptive existence in an unforgiving, unimaginative suburban town, where several (how many were there in the end, 8? 10?) couples in the early years of marriage and children, break the monotony by sleeping with one another. This time period - 1960s - is not a particularly sympathetic one in American white middle-class history anyway, and Updike certainly portrays it with a clear lens. I think I found the motivations of essentially every character the most tiring - everyone was so egoistic that nothing seemed of value at all.

  • Jenn McConkey
    2018-12-09 22:11

    Interesting to say the least. Long haul that it was with it's sometimes overdetailed prose I love the visuals Updike achieves in this story. The comparisons between parts of womens bodies and whatever variety of things he could think of to describe them was erotic and shows a man who loves women and aknowledges that women can and do love sex as mutually as men. Shows us that perhaps not prude but unsatisfied is more often the cause of a disinterested wife. I must admit I started looking at my neighbors in a whole new light and can't help but wonder if someone is sleeping with someone elses spouse, i just hope it's not mine! Looking forward to another book by Updike as this was my first.

  • Angie
    2018-12-03 01:04

    I barely wanted to admit I read this crazy, weird, swingers' story, so I gave it 3 stars and put it away. In fact, I completely forgot I read it at all. So, missing Updike, I went back and read it again, and gave it another star. This time, the rampant adultery, while central to the novel, actually took a back seat to other things, and as with all Updike books, the (crazy-ass) characters began to take shape and become familiar, their flaws giving way to delicate virtues, until I liked most of them in spite of myself. It might take you two readings, though. Just remember: this was the 60s. People were... strange. Forgive them for that ahead of time.