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Labor in Vain Creek, Ipswich, Massachusetts

Tarbox, Massachusetts is a fictional town that serves as the setting for the 1968 novel Couples and several short stories by American author John Updike. Many commentators, including a columnist in the local Ipswich Chronicle, asserted that the fictional town of Tarbox was based on Ipswich, the small coastal town where Updike lived from 1957 to 1974. Updike denied the suggestion in a letter to the paper. [1]

Tarbox was founded in 1634 and is located near Plymouth, approximately 30 miles south of Boston (the same distance that Ipswich is north of Boston). Its permanent population is about 8,000 and it contains hundreds of small-yarded homes as well as many 17th century saltboxes.

Tarbox's downtown business district includes three banks, two hardware stores and a Woolworth's and the town is famous for the natural beauty of its many salt marshes, orchards and farms.

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  1. The Ipswich Chronicle. April 25, 1968. Letter: "Updike 'flatly denies' that Tarbox is Ipswich."