Couples (novel)

Last updated

Couples
Couples (Updike novel - cover art).jpg
First edition
AuthorJohn Updike
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Publisher Knopf
Publication date
1968
Pages458
LC Class PZ4.U64 Co3

Couples is a 1968 novel by American author John Updike.

Contents

Summary

The novel depicts the lives of a promiscuous circle of ten couples in the small Massachusetts town of Tarbox. (When he composed the book, the author was living in Ipswich, Massachusetts.)

Plot and characters

Much of the plot of Couples (which opens on the evening of March 24, 1962, and integrates historical events like the loss of the USS Thresher on April 10, 1963, the Profumo affair, and the Kennedy assassination in November 1963) concerns the efforts of its characters to balance the pressures of Protestant sexual mores against increasingly flexible American attitudes toward sex in the 1960s. The book suggests that this relaxation may have been driven by the development of birth control and the opportunity to enjoy what one character refers to as "the post-pill paradise".

The novel is rich in period detail. (In 2009, USA Today called it a "time capsule" of the era.) [1] The lyrical and explicit descriptions of sex, unusual for the time, made the book somewhat notorious. Time magazine had reserved a cover story for Updike and the novel before knowing what it was about; after actually reading it they were embarrassed, and discovered that "the higher up it went in the Time hierarchy, the less they liked it." [2]

The ten couples are:

Reception

The novel was widely and enthusiastically reviewed, landing Updike on the cover of Time magazine, a rare location for an author. [3] Time, while detailing similarities between real Ipswich and fictional Tarbox ("it is worth noting that the Updikes are the ringleaders of a group of like-minded couples whom the older Ipswichers call the Junior Jet Set. Updike has organized endless basketball, volleyball and touch-football games, led the jet set on skiing trips, and presided over countless intramural parties. Says one member of the set: 'What we have evolved is a ritual. It sets up a rhythm where we are all available to each other. It's rather as if all of us belong to a family.' Adds another friend without elaboration: 'You can't sustain that very long without its being very destructive'"), called the book "sensational". Critic and novelist Wilfred Sheed, in the New York Times Book Review , found Couples "ingenious" and "scorching...the games are described with loving horror." Addressing the novel's famous frankness about sexual manners, Sheed wrote, "If this is a dirty book, I don't see how sex can be written about at all. Updike's treatment of sex is central to his method, which is that of a fictional biochemist approaching mankind with a tray of hypersensitive gadgets." [4]

Certain locals, though, did not embrace the novel. It is rumored that Updike was quietly but definitely dismissed from prominent social circles as well as the insular Myopia Hunt Club for his writings about peers and fellow members.

More recently, Martin Amis dismissed Couples as one of the author's lesser works. [5]

Cultural significance

Couples is often cited as a historically important depiction of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, along with Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint (1969) and Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge (1968). In 1993, Edward Sorel illustrated the authors as a trio of satyrs. [6] [7]

Updike on Couples

Updike had intended to call the novel, "in honor of its amplitude", Couples and Houses and Days. [8] To an interviewer's question about the difficulty of writing scenes about sex, Updike replied: "They were no harder than landscapes and a little more interesting. It's wonderful the way people in bed talk, the sense of voices and the sense of warmth, so that as a writer you become kind of warm also. The book is, of course, not about sex as such: It's about sex as the emergent religion, as the only thing left." [9] And in the Paris Review "Art of Fiction" interview series, he discussed the disappearance of his novel's hero into the story's happy ending: [10]

There's also a way, though, I should say, in which, with the destruction of the church, with the removal of Piet's guilt, he becomes insignificant. He becomes merely a name in the last paragraph: he becomes a satisfied person and in a sense dies. In other words, a person who has what he wants, a satisfied person, a content person, ceases to be a person. Unfallen Adam is an ape. Yes, I guess I do feel that. I feel that to be a person is to be in a situation of tension, is to be in a dialectical situation. A truly adjusted person is not a person at all—just an animal with clothes on or a statistic. So that it's a happy ending, with this 'but' at the end.

Related Research Articles

John Updike American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary critic

John Hoyer Updike was an American novelist, poet, short-story writer, art critic, and literary critic. One of only four writers to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once, Updike published more than twenty novels, more than a dozen short-story collections, as well as poetry, art and literary criticism and children's books during his career.

Kingsley Amis English novelist, poet, critic, teacher

Sir Kingsley William Amis was an English novelist, poet, critic and teacher. He wrote more than 20 novels, six volumes of poetry, a memoir, short stories, radio and television scripts, and works of social and literary criticism. He is best known for satirical comedies such as Lucky Jim (1954), One Fat Englishman (1963), Ending Up (1974), Jake's Thing (1978) and The Old Devils (1986). His biographer, Zachary Leader, called Amis "the finest English comic novelist of the second half of the twentieth century." He is the father of the novelist Martin Amis. In 2008, The Times ranked him ninth on a list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.

Martin Amis British novelist

Martin Louis Amis is a British novelist, essayist, memoirist, and screenwriter. He is best known for his novels Money (1984) and London Fields (1989). He received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his memoir Experience and has been listed for the Booker Prize twice. Amis served as the Professor of Creative Writing at the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester until 2011. In 2008, The Times named him one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.

Tom Wolfe American author and journalist

Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. was an American author and journalist widely known for his association with New Journalism, a style of news writing and journalism developed in the 1960s and 1970s that incorporated literary techniques.

<i>Fanny Hill</i> 18th century erotic novel

Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure—popularly known as Fanny Hill —is an erotic novel by English novelist John Cleland first published in London in 1748. Written while the author was in debtors' prison in London, it is considered "the first original English prose pornography, and the first pornography to use the form of the novel". It is one of the most prosecuted and banned books in history.

Nicholson Baker Contemporary American novelist, essayist, non-fiction writer

Nicholson Baker is an American novelist and essayist. His fiction generally de-emphasizes narrative in favor of careful description and characterization. His early novels such as The Mezzanine and Room Temperature were distinguished by their minute inspection of his characters' and narrators' stream of consciousness. Out of a total of ten fiction books, he also wrote three erotic novels: Vox, The Fermata and House of Holes. Among others, Baker has published articles in Harper's Magazine, the London Review of Books and The New Yorker.

John Cheever American novelist and short story writer

John William Cheever was an American novelist and short story writer. He is sometimes called "the Chekhov of the suburbs". His fiction is mostly set in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the Westchester suburbs, old New England villages based on various South Shore towns around Quincy, Massachusetts, where he was born, and Italy, especially Rome. His short stories included "The Enormous Radio", "Goodbye, My Brother", "The Five-Forty-Eight", "The Country Husband", and "The Swimmer", and he also wrote five novels, comprising The Wapshot Chronicle , The Wapshot Scandal, Bullet Park (1969), Falconer (1977) and a novella Oh What a Paradise It Seems (1982).

Edmund White

Edmund Valentine White III is an American novelist, memoirist, and an essayist on literary and social topics. Much of his writing is on the theme of same-sex love. His books include The Joy of Gay Sex (1977), his trio of autobiographic novels, A Boy's Own Story (1982), The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), and his biography of Jean Genet.

<i>Literary Review</i> Magazine

Literary Review is a British literary magazine founded in 1979 by Anne Smith, then head of the Department of English at the University of Edinburgh. Its offices are on Lexington Street in Soho. The magazine was edited for fourteen years by veteran journalist Auberon Waugh. The current editor is Nancy Sladek.

<i>Rabbit, Run</i>

Rabbit, Run is a 1960 novel by John Updike. The novel depicts three months in the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball player named Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom who is trapped in a loveless marriage and a boring sales job, and his attempts to escape the constraints of his life. It spawned several sequels, including Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, as well as a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered. In these novels Updike takes a comical and retrospective look at the relentless questing life of Rabbit against the background of the major events of the latter half of the 20th century.

<i>Rabbit Redux</i>

Rabbit Redux is a 1971 novel by John Updike. It is the second book in his "Rabbit" series, beginning with Rabbit, Run and followed by Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit At Rest, published from 1960 to 1990, and the related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered.

<i>In the Beauty of the Lilies</i>

In the Beauty of the Lilies is a 1996 novel by John Updike. It takes its title from a line of the abolitionist song "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The novel received the 1997 Ambassador Book Award for Fiction.

<i>Toward the End of Time</i>

Toward the End of Time is a novel by American writer John Updike, published in 1997. It is the author's 18th novel.

<i>The Anatomy Lesson</i> (Roth novel)

The Anatomy Lesson is a 1983 novel by the American author Philip Roth. It is the third novel from Roth to feature Nathan Zuckerman as the main character.

<i>Yellow Dog</i> (novel)

Yellow Dog is the title of a 2003 novel by the British writer Martin Amis. Like many of Amis's novels, the book is set in contemporary London. The novel contains several strands that appear to be linked, although a complete resolution of the plot is not immediately apparent. An early working title for the novel, according to an interview Amis gave with the Observer Review in September 2002, was Men in Power. Despite some rather harsh criticism, Yellow Dog made the longlist for the Man Booker Prize in 2003.

<i>Rogers Version</i>

Roger's Version is a 1986 novel by American writer John Updike.

<i>The Same Door</i>

The Same Door is the first collection of John Updike's short stories in book form. It was published in 1959 by Alfred A. Knopf. This was the year after his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair, was published by the same company, a house he was to remain with for 50 years.

<i>The Moronic Inferno</i>

The Moronic Inferno: And Other Visits to America (1986) is a collection of non-fiction essays on the subject of America, by the British novelist Martin Amis.

Literature of New England

The literature of New England has had an enduring influence on American literature in general, with themes such as religion, race, the individual versus society, social repression, and nature, emblematic of the larger concerns of American letters.

<i>The Sacred and Profane Love Machine</i> Novel by Iris Murdoch

The Sacred and Profane Love Machine is a novel by Iris Murdoch. Published in 1974, it was her sixteenth novel. It won the Whitbread Novel Award for 1974.

References

  1. Bob Minzesheimer, "John Updike: His novels were 'a time capsule' of his era", January 27, 2009.
  2. John Updike, James Plath (1994) Conversations with John Updike, p.52
  3. Time , "View from the Catacombs", April 26, 1968.
  4. Wilfred Sheed, "Couples", The New York Times Book Review, April 7, 1968.
  5. Malcolm Forbes (August 8, 2012). "Martin Amis: Romney looks 'crazed with power'". The Washington Times . Archived from the original on October 16, 2012. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  6. The Laureates of the Lewd
  7. James Atlas The Laureates of the Lewd in Gentleman's Quarterly, April 1993
  8. John Updike, "A Foreword to a limited edition of 'Couples: A Short Story,' published by Halty Ferguson (Cambridge, Massachusetts) in 1976," Hugging The Shore, New York: Knopf, 1981. p. 856.
  9. John Updike, "Appendix: One Big Interview", Picked-Up Pieces, New York: Knopf, 1975. p. 505.
  10. Charles Taylor Samuels, "John Updike", Paris Review: Art of Fiction No. 43, 1968. p 18.