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Villages by John Updike

Villages (2004)

by John Updike

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Villages was one of Updike's later novels, released in 2005. Like many of his earlier novels, it's based around a story of middle class adultery in average-town America, with the main character looking back in his old age at the sex and love which has been indelibly weaved throughout his life's story.

With the historical narrative set mainly in the 1950s - 1970s, the protagonist, Owen Mackenzie - an MIT graduate and early pioneer of computer technology - lives comfortably in various 'villages' around the east coast of the States. He is the kind of man who has always been enthralled by the smallest details of the women who have crossed his path, seeing beauty in all the differences of their physique and character. Not surprisingly, this appreciation leads to him being easily persuaded to loosen the moral tethers that bind his marriage, from which point there is no going back.

Selfish, self-centred, amoral, most of the characters echo the stereotypes from the Rabbit Angstrom novels, with the familiar theme of middle-age boredom setting in amongst the weekend cocktail party set. That being said, this novel is much more focused on Mackenzie's emotional connections (or lack of) to his sexual affairs, and as such is probably most similar to his earlier Couples novel.

The sexual reminiscing is fairly unerotic, but as usual Updike manages to make the lives of weak, morally bankrupt characters totally engaging.

I'm a big Updike fan, and as always was blown away by the utter skill of his narrative. Not my favourite of his books so far, but enjoyable nonetheless. ( )
  AlisonY | Jun 24, 2015 |
John Updike's novels read just like his short stories, only longer. It's the same "slice of life" approach, he just gives you a broader slice. In Villages, we are presented with Updike's version of small town life, through the life of his main character, Owen Mackenzie. We're also presented with a brief history of the early decades of computer science, which is Owen's field. (This is integrated into the story somewhat more successfully than the history of postwar American art was in Updike's previous novel, Seek My Face.)

But what Villages is really about is sex. It follows Owen's sexual development from childhood to old age. Most of the book is about his many affairs with practically every woman in town. Updike has some interesting things to say about sex, some insightful things, some obvious things, some inconsistent things, and some just plain wrong things. On the whole, the attitude toward sex in this artistic portrayal of it isn't exactly healthy, but neither is it as sick as, say, Joyce's in Ulysses.

Not a bad read overall, but not fantastic either. ( )
1 vote AshRyan | Dec 23, 2011 |
"It is a mad thing, to be alive"
  luisgouveiafernandes | Aug 19, 2011 |
alles schon mal irgendwo gelesen : Lange keinen Updike gelesen und voller guter Erinnerungen war ich beim Kauf des Buches noch gut gestimmt und schmunzelte noch beim Lesen der ersten Seiten. Dann wurde es langweiliger und langweiliger und jetzt, etwa in der Mitte angekommen, habe ich es mit Bedauern zur Seite gelegt. Alles, was Mr. Updike von sich gibt, hat man irgendwo schon einmal gelesen. Erster Sex in jungen Jahren, Gedanken über die Ehefrau in blauen Flipflops etc. - es kommt einfach nicht das Gefühl auf, dass man wissen möchte, was auf der nächsten Seite passieren wird. Und so etwas wie "Spannung" schon sowieso nicht. Die Story ist einfach nur banal und reizt zum Gähnen. Den einen Stern bekommt Mr. Updike für seinen Schreibstil.
  r1hard | Nov 22, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
This book gives great pleasure. Some writers get more boring with age, but John Updike just gets more perspicacious. The wealth of connections and imagery increases with the years; the practice of literary expression makes the prose yet more perfect.
Unfortunately for the reader, his latest novel, "Villages,'' is very much in the "Licks of Love'' mode: it reconnoiters old territory surveyed by Mr. Updike many, many times before. Once again, we are treated to rambling, sometimes lascivious accounts of small-town adultery. Once again, we are given disquisitions on how sexual mores changed from the staid 1950's through the cultural revolution of the 60's and 70's, and into the roaring 90's. And once again, we are provided with a retrospective narrative in which the hero gazes into the rearview mirror of his life, reliving long-ago affairs and missed opportunities from the vertiginous vantage point of late middle age.
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Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain....

--Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach"
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For a long time, his wife has awoken early, at five or five-thirty. By the rhythms of her chemistry, sometimes discordant with Owen's, Julia wakes full of affection for him, her companion on the bed's motionless voyage through that night of imperfect sleep. She hugs him and, above his protests that he is still sleeping, declares in a soft but relentless voice how much she loves him, how pleased she is by their marriage. "I'm just so happy with you."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345477316, Paperback)

In this wry novel of sentimental education and sexual pursuit, we follow Owen Mackenzie, a representative man of the author’s generation, from cradle to grave, and from bed to bed. His life and relationships are shaped by three villages, warm-lit communities that keep the darkness at bay from within and without. In Willow, Pennsylvania, the young Owen is transfixed by his first glimpses of female beauty. In Middle Falls, Connecticut, he marries, becomes a first-wave computer programmer, and discovers the very grownup pleasures of serial adultery. Finally, married for a second time, he retires with his memories, illusions, and fantasies to the somewhat geriatric community of Haskells Crossing, Massachusetts. John Updike turns Owen’s personal odyssey into a radiant, sensual fable of the seasons of a man’s life—and of the getting of wisdom in America.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:34 -0400)

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"John Updike's twenty-first novel, a bildungsroman, follows its hero, Owen Mackenzie, from his birth in the semi-rural Pennsylvania town of Willow to his retirement in the rather geriatric community of Hasskells Crossing, Massachusetts. In between these two settlements comes Middle Falls, Connecticut, where Owen, an early computer programmer, founds with a partner, Ed Mervine, the successful firm of E-O Data, which is housed in an old gun factory on the Chunkaunkabaug River. Owen's education (Bildung) is not merely technical but liberal, as the humanity of his three villages, especially that of their female citizens, works to disengage him from his youthful innocence. As a child he early felt an abyss of calamity beneath the sunny surface quotidian, yet also had a dreamlike sense of leading a charmed existence. The women of his life, including his wives, Phyllis and Julia, shed what light they can."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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