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. At one juncture he reflects, "How lovely she is, naked in the dark! How little men deserve the beauty and mercy of women!" His life as a sexual being merges with the communal shelter of villages: "A village is woven of secrets, of truths better left unstated, of houses with less window than opaque wall."
This delightful, witty, passionate novel runs from the Depression era to the early 21st century.
©2004 John Updike; (P)2004 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc.
"Updike still writes lovely sentences and creates a believable portrait of the American village." (Publishers Weekly)
"As is usual for Updike, this novel is elegantly styled." (Booklist)
This novel is a true masterpiece, full gorgeous phrasings and extraordinarily keen observations. No writer is a greater virtuoso of the English language than Updike, but many of his books are plagued by scenes and storylines that dawdle and beat around the bush. Not this one. This book has a strong and well paced storyline, so you not only get Updike's immaculate writing skills but also the kind of forward momentum that keeps readers feeling a genuine sense of destination.
It's also has a flamboyant cast of characters, lead by Owen Mackenzie, who Updike takes from boyhood to the grave in a whirlwind expedition through childhood hi-jinx, courtship, marriage, fatherhood, numerous extra-marital affairs, business relationships and a career as a computer engineer and entrepreneur. You get a surprisingly well-informed and entertaining history of the computer industry?s evolution. Updike makes extraordinary observations about digital devices and their analogies to the humanity.
It?s also a very sexy book, built around male/female relationships, some sanctioned, some illicit. Nobody writes sex and love scenes like Updike, and this book is loaded with them. They?re not so much descriptions of the act as they are beautifully and incisively crafted explorations of human geography and emotion. Some of these scenes are so literary even Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson would have difficulty quibbling with them.
Lastly, the book is marvelously read and extremely well recorded, making the separation of characters very distinct.
What a treat that John Updike, though advanced in years, is still turning out such powerhouse novels.
I'm not a hardcore Updike fan, but I've enjoyed some of his other books. This one is good and is well-adapted to the audio format. Real Updike fans will probably enjoy it even more because it sheds some light on the situations and characters developed in his other books.
If you like to listen to language, this is about as good as it gets. Villages is soap opera elevated to high art. (Did America invent the Soap, along with Jazz?) In Villages Updike uses all his skills to create a really interesting listening experience. As a narrator, Edward Herman is truly superb. I wish he would have done the Rabbit novels.
By the time Villages came out, Updike was not trendy anymore, just a giant that young people barely knew about. But you take one look at this book, just listen to one chapter, and you're blown away. His powers were as great, greater than ever. What a loss. I miss his books so much.
I have listened to the first 45 minutes of Villages, and as of yet, I haven't come across anything in the way of interesting plot -- or *any* plot for that matter. So far, it seems to be just tedious exposition. I can see why people speak of Updike's keen observations and his poetic use of language, etc. However, this book is not my cup of tea. My interest in the characters, places, periods described simply has not been piqued, not after nearly an hour of listening. This will be one of the rare pieces of literature that I shall leave unfinished.
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