S. is the story of Sarah P. Worth, a thoroughly modern spiritual seeker who has become enamored of a Hindu mystic called the Arhat. A native New Englander, she goes west to join his ashram in Arizona, and there struggles alongside fellow sannyasins (pilgrims) in the difficult attempt to subdue ego and achieve moksha (salvation, release from illusion). “S.” details her adventures in letters and tapes dispatched to her husband, her daughter, her brother, her dentist, her hairdresser, and her psychiatrist—messages cleverly designed to keep her old world in order while she is creating for herself a new one. This is Hester Prynne’s side of the triangle described by Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter; it is also a burlesque of the quest for enlightenment, and an affectionate meditation on American womanhood.
John Updike was the author of more than sixty books, including collections of short stories, poems, and criticism. His novels have been honored with the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, and the Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Hugging the Shore, an earlier collection of essays and reviews, received the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. He died in January 2009.
“One of Updike’s lightest, funniest, and slyest fictions—a comedy about the sneaky economies of the spirit.”—The New Yorker “This comedy of Brahmin manners is . . . a mercilessly funny account of life in a religious commune. Some would say that Sarah’s flight to self-discovery is strictly in the best Puritan tradition.”—The Washington Post Book World
“A spiritual adventure story . . . Updike fully inhabits his imperfect matron. Her voice, which can sweep from the heights of religious fluff to the swamps of bathos in astonishing feats of non sequitur, is a wonderful comic invention.”—Newsweek