Thursday, 29 July 2010

Couples by John Updike

I’ve enjoyed Updike in the past, but for some reason struggled with this one, his 1968 novel about the adulterous affairs between a set of ten families living in a small Massachusetts town in the mid 1960s. Apparently, it’s frank depictions of the sexual act and the post-pill paradise garnered it some notoriety; maybe I’m jaded, but I found it overwritten and below the author’s usual standard.

Anyway, this is a booze blog, not a sex blog, so on to the drinking. Here’s a passage from the beginning of the book, which describes the far too long a cocktail time before lunch. Foxy Whitman is a newcomer to the town of Tarbox, having just arrived there from Cambridge with her husband Ken:

To put herself at ease she had drunk too much. Under the mechanical urging of her inflexibly frowning host she had accepted two martinis and then, with such stupid false girlishness, a third; feeling a squirm of nausea, she had gone to the kitchen seeking a dilution of vermouth and had whispered her secret to her hostess, a drunken girlish thing to do that would have outraged Ken, yet the kind of thing she felt was desired of her in this company.

Ah, diluted vermouth. Perfect for morning sickness... All manner of social convention can be observed when alcohol is produced:

Frank Appleby was given two bottles to uncork, local-liquor-store Bordeaux, and went around the table twice, pouring once for the ladies, and then for the men. In Cambridge the Chianti was passed from hand to hand without ceremony.

Well, we’re not in Cambridge anymore...

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