Book Review 18: S. by John Updike

What happens when a woman leaves her former life behind in order to seek a spiritual awakening?

Well, that’s the scenario in the novel S. by John Updike.

S stands for Sarah Worth, the main character in the novel.  She is a New England housewife who decides to leave her husband, daughter, relatives, and friends  to go to a Hindu religious compound in Arizona.

She communicates with her family and friends through letters and cassette tape recordings throughout the entire book about her religious experiences at the compound.

However, Sarah begins to reveal things are not what they seem from when she first arrived in Arizona and ends up being deceived by her decision.

I must write she was probably the most self-deluded, narcissistic, and immature main character of a novel I’ve ever read. But, a writer of Updike’s talent made interesting and sometimes downright funny to read.

My wife asked me why would I read a novel like this.  I told her that when I lived in Santa Fe, NM in the early 90’s that I actually met women like Sarah Worth there.  Those women came from California, Texas, and the Northeast looking to get in touch with their new-found spirituality and while reading this book, I recognized that attitude and behavior instantly.

This was the first John Updike novel I read and was impressed in how he got the female perspective realistically. Also, there is a connection to the novel Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne. While the main character in that novel dealt with the sin of adultery, S. deals with the sin of self-deception and selfishness and in some aspects those characteristics could be worse than adultery.

Finally, I found this novel to be an interesting character study of a self-deluded woman and it showed me how fiction can illuminate the worst in human behavior and make it believable.

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