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Villages is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The graphics program DigitEyes mentioned herein bears no relation to any actual computer entity of the same name.

2012 Random House Trade Paperback Edition

Copyright © 2004 by John Updike

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Random House Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

RANDOM HOUSE TRADE PAPERBACKS and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., in 2004.

David Updike walked me through MIT, and Charles Gardiner and Ken Schneider kindly scanned the computer parts of this novel. But errors and missteps are all my own. —J.U.

Portions of the first four chapters were previously published in The New Yorker magazine under the titles “Sin: Early Impressions” and “Elsie by Starlight.”

eISBN: 978-0-307-41764-0

Cover design: Gabrielle Bordwin

Cover art: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Wedding Dance, c.1566 (detail) (Bridgeman Art Library)


Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.…


“Dover Beach”



Title Page




   ii.   VILLAGE SEX—I

  iii.   THE HUSBAND












Other Books by This Author

About the Author

i. Dream On, Dear Owen

For a long time, his wife has awoken early, at five or five-thirty. By the rhythms of her chemistry, sometimes discordant with Owen’s, Julia wakes full of affection for him, her companion on the bed’s motionless voyage through that night of imperfect sleep. She hugs him and, above his protests that he is still sleeping, declares in a soft but relentless voice how much she loves him, how pleased she is by their marriage. “I’m just so happy with you.”

This after twenty-five years of life together. He is seventy, she sixty-five; her announcement, newsworthy to her, slightly insults him: how could it be otherwise? After all their trials, and the pain they gave others. They waded through; here they are, on the other side. She tugs at him; she twists his head in order to kiss his mouth. But his lips are puffy and numb with sleep, and in his anesthetized state, his nerves misaligned, it feels like an attempt to suffocate him; it rubs him, as people used to say, the wrong way. After a few minutes more of lovestricken fidgeting, while he stubbornly fails to respond, protecting the possibility of returning to his precious dreams, Julia relents and rises from the bed, and Owen, gratefully stretching himself into her vacated side, falls asleep for another hour or two.

One morning in this last, stolen hour he dreams that, in a house he does not know (it has a shabby, public air to it, as of a boarding-house or a hospital), faceless official presences guide him into a room where, on a bed like theirs, two single beds yoked together to make a king-size, a man—rather young, to judge from the smoothness of his blond body, with its plump buttocks—lies upon his wife’s body as if attempting resuscitation or (not at all the same thing) concealment. When, under silent direction from the accompanying, officiating presences, this stranger removes himself, Owen’s wife’s body, also naked, is revealed, supine: the white relaxed belly, the breasts flattened by gravity, her dear known sex in its gauzy beard of fur. She is dead, a suicide. She has found the way out of her pain. Owen thinks, If I had not interfered with her life, she would be still alive. He yearns to embrace her and breathe her back to life and suck back into himself the poison that his existence has worked upon hers.

Then, slowly, reluctantly, as one lifts one’s attention from a still-unsolved puzzle, he wakes up, and of course she is not dead; she is downstairs generating the smell of coffee and the rumble of an early news show: several bantering voices, male and female. Traffic and weather, Julia loves them both, they never cease to interest her, these chronic daily contingencies, though she quit commuting to Boston three years ago. He can hear the blue rubber flip-flops she insists on wearing, as if forever young and dressed for a beach, slap back and forth in the kitchen, refrigerator to countertop to breakfast table, and then to sink and trashmasher and dishwasher and on into the dining room, watering her plants. She loves her plants with the same emotional organ, perhaps, with which she loves the weather. The noise the flip-flops make, and the hazard they represent to her footing—she keeps slipping on the stairs—irritate him, but he does like the sight of her bare toes, spread slightly apart, as on hardworking Asian feet, their little joints whitened by the tension of keeping her flip-flops on. She is a small, dense-bodied brunette; unlike his first wife, she takes a good smooth tan.

Some days, half-roused, he finds the way back to sleep only by remembering one of the women, Alissa or Vanessa or Karen or Faye, who shared with him the town of Middle Falls, Connecticut, in the ’sixties and ’seventies. His hand gripping his drowsy prick, he relives having one of them beneath him, beside him, above him, brushing back her hair as she bends her face to his swollen core, its every nerve crying out for moist, knowing contact; but today is not one of those days. The strengthening white sun of spring glares brutally beneath the window shade. The real world, a tiger unwounded by his dream, awaits. It is time to get up and shoulder

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