William H. PritchardDecember 19, 2008 - 1:34pm0 comments
The Widows of Eastwick
Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95, 320 pp.
Like other prolific novelists (Philip Roth comes to mind), John Updike likes to revisit his characters, checking to see what they’ve been up to over the years since he invented them. In The Witches of Eastwick (1984) we first met the three gifted and dangerous women who worked their magic in a small, “semi-depressed and semi-fashionable” Rhode Island town. Alexandra Spofford, Jane Smart, and Sukie Rougement, having reduced their onetime husbands to “polychrome dust” or its equivalent (one set of remains is hung in the cellar along with dried herbs; another has been “permanized” in a plastic place mat) are free to exert their powers on the inhabitants of Eastwick, whose air, Alexandra feels, “empowers” women. So empowered, the three women neglect their children, sleep with various of the town’s husbands, cavort with a devil-figure named Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson hammed it up in the movie), and eventually put a mortal hex on Jenny Gabriel, the young woman whom Van Horne decides to marry. At the novel’s end, the women, having conjured up new husbands, leave Eastwick for other parts of the country.
Lo and behold, after two and a half decades they are (again) widowed, footloose, and in the mood for travel to foreign parts. The original Witches consisted of three parts: “The Coven,” “Malefica,” and “Guilt.” In the opening of the new novel (also in three parts and almost exactly as long as its...