Having read almost all Updike's novels and short stories, I picked up this book with no expectations. For years I wondered why Updike had such a terrible reputation among feminists - I couldn't understand their ire from what I had read. In the middle 1980's, Updike picked up on the misandric attacks on men from radical feminists and used it to drive The Witches of Eastwick, Roger's Version and this minor masterpiece, S.
S. is Sarah, a 40 something descendant of Hester Prynne, who one day just picks up and leaves her surgeon husband, her daughter Pearl and great material comfort for an ashram in the Arizona desert. The tale is revealed through letters and cassette tapes, all from Sarah's point of view. Her 'spiritual' journey is revealed - a fantastic sham, as it turns out. Her confused outlook and willfully greedy behaviour makes for great ridicule in Updike's eyes. He strips off her hypocrisy and selfishness bit by bit, until the very last page of the book.
I found it compelling reading, dangerous at the time of writing and still terribly relevant. The extent to which anti-male views exist today in the culture is fantastic, and this counter-blast, couched in comedy and irony, is very welcome reading. I can see why feminists hate Updike now, once and for all, and it makes me like him all the more.
The writing is terrific all the way through, and the story is funny, sad and revealing. Only the form prevents me from rewarding it 5 stars - the letter writing is a convention, and a little painful. But as a radical re-write of The Scarlet Letter, it is a blast.