Category Archives: John Updike

July 22, 2009, 5:35 pm

Adultery Carnival: John Updike’s Couples and the Sexual Revolution


John Updike, Couples (New York: Fawcett Books, 1996). Originally published 1968. 458 pp. $14.95

I don’t know whether I meant to bring two books about adultery on vacation but I did, and the contrast between Jed Mercurio’s American Adulterer and John Updike’s Couples provoked many thoughts about the shift in our sexual culture as seen through this knotty, diverse practice. One important similarity in the two books is what has not changed: adultery generates its own complex rules so that adulterers can evade and break other rules. In other words, the adulterer, although perhaps motivated by a desire to be free, is never truly free.

But the differences are also interesting, particularly since both novels describe the same historical moment, the early 1960s. While Updike’s adulterers operate as a community and literally as couples who protect each other, Mercurio’s adulterer in chief, JFK…

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