There is no reason to assume that Villages will be John Updike's swan song; he remains prolific at age 72. Yet this book is beautifully suited to that role. It is wise and elegiac and warmed by a sense of reconciliation with the most vexatious elements of Updike's fiction: women and sex. From the vantage point of old age, Owen Mackenzie looks back on the three villages that have defined his life. Willow, Pa., was the scene of a pinched if unremarkable boyhood. Middle Falls, Conn., became his "institute of middle-class know-how," where the scholarship boy from MIT settled with his brainy wife and learned to mix a cocktail, serve a tennis ball, run a business and commit serial adultery. Haskell's Crossing, Mass., is the old-money enclave where Owen, enriched by an early foray into computer engineering, escapes with his second wife to hide out from the mess they made in Middle Falls. Looking back on their small circle and its furtive infidelities, Owen recalls that, in most cases, "the man of the couple was a comic figure, but the woman was not." He is more philosophical than bitter, however, subdued by a waning libido and thoughts of death. Villages is Updike in top form, every sentence a marvel of insight and imagery. But what lingers is the melancholic sympathy Owen discovers late in life for his mother's awkward striving, his first wife's thwarted talent for mathematics, his mistresses' jagged longings. Could Rabbit be at peace?