Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Speaking of the bourgeois novel, which he describes as “inherently erotic,” Updike writes in an essay, “If domestic stability and personal salvation are at issue, acts of sexual conquest and surrender are important.” The remark seems especially apropos of A Month of Sundays, the two foci of which are domestic stability and personal salvation, and it illuminates other Updike works as a group: Rabbit, Run (1960), Couples (1968), Marry Me (1976), and The Witches of Eastwick (1984).

Updike’s oblique presentation of the moral issues dramatized in his marriage novels—and his Barthian separation of the ethical (man’s relations with man) and the religious (man’s relations with God)—confuses many critics. Updike stands where his protagonists stand, facing a set of Hobson’s choices. It is a position in which readers of modern fiction often find themselves.