As promised, a review. Note: I'm only halfway through, but since I'm leaving on a jet plane early Friday morning and I live in fear of SPOILERS, I felt I could give you 500 words on just the first half. If, at the end of the book I determine that I went astray somewhere then I will update it. But trust me on this so far.
It is 30 years later and the witches have spread across the continent. Alexandra, from whose viewpoint we see most of the story, is the first to be widowed. Unsure of what else to do, it seems, she take a reactionary, melancholy, tour of the Canadian Rockies. Months - a full year? - after her return she hears from Jane, who is newly widowed and living in the family home in New England with her aging mother-in-law. They take a reactionary, slightly less melancholy tour of Egypt. A few more months go by (as well as a full third of the book) when a newly widowed Sukie finally makes her appearance.
(Full disclosure, Sukie was always the one I identified with. Probably it was that she was a writer and I could understand that.)
The trio of them, distinctly less melancholy but still only sporadically happy, build on their previous tours and head to China.
These three trips seem to be only slightly about the girls, and read much more like travel articles. Luckily they are all three places I’d like to see, and Updike describes even the air in such an enticing way that I didn’t mind the diversion. It was very subtly that you pick up how the witches are now, as opposed to how they were thirty years ago when we last saw them - promiscuous and impetuously creating their new husbands after all the trouble the other men in their life seemed to bring with them - so that when they do start to move forward it’s as though you’ve known them all along and the thirty year absence falls away.
It is the following summer, not immediately as the blurb on the back of the book suggests, that they make their hesitant way back to Eastwick, to stay in a condo that has been fashioned out of the mansion where so many of their mischievous moments took place.
While they have moved away and the world has grown and changed around them, Eastwick has not forgotten them. They encounter old lovers and old enemies and Updike’s wistful descriptions of their reactions and memories leaves the reader to wonder if he isn’t revisting his own past - knowing what lies ahead for him. They are themselves too wistful, too full of guilt at the crimes of their youths that the trip back proves harder for them than anticipated. Even Alexandra, who resists the trip right up until there’s no backing out.
Though everyone is, on the surface, unperturbed by the return of the trio, they all seem to have designs, if you will, on what their own destiny with the witches will be. A few old lovers want to rekindle flames. Those who feel themselves scorned want reparations, children want to heal old wounds...our witches may be forced to tap into their “cone of power” again...and for more than just their own amusement.
update: It just gets better. Trust.