S. (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
Sarah Worth, the heroine of Updike’s final novel in the trilogy he has written to retell the story of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850), repeats this aphorism, supposedly the Buddha’s last words, in one of the communiqués she sends to her best friend, Midge Hibbens, from her new “home” in the Arizona desert. Having abandoned her husband of twenty-some years, Sarah has fled to the desert to seek refuge and inner solace as a member of a commune run by the Indian guru Arhat Mindadali. There, she comes in closer touch with the teachings of the Buddha—if one can believe the letters she sends to various correspondents, for this novel is made up exclusively of Sarah’s letters and tapes to those outside the commune. As the reader learns by the end of this novel, however, Sarah has taken the Buddha’s advice to heart all along.
S. follows earlier novels A Month of Sundays (1975) and Roger’s Version (1986) in Updike’s attempt to redo Hawthorne’s classic American tale from the perspectives of the three main characters. S. is Hester Prynne’s side of the story. This Hester, however, is a very modern lady, making her way in the 1980’s with considerably more confidence than her seventeenth century predecessor. The Puritan backdrop gives Updike great opportunity to load his work with...
(The entire section is 1757 words.)
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