In this peaceful town, pretty birds sing and the sumac twines. Along the edge of the mothering sea stand colonial cottages reaped from the wasted fields of the American Revolution and threshed into 20th century quaintness. Church steeples point for all to see toward the virtuous life. Railroad tracks dwindle northward toward Boston, an unconcerned hour away. This is Tarbox, Mass., the setting of John Updike's new novel Couples, where primitive American democracy reveals itself in town meetings, and three streets of the business district are named Hope, Charity and Divinity.
As in many such...