Begley’s newer books tend to revolve around a specific type of man. They are a breed well-known to Begley, whose day job is to negotiate legal deals for Manhattan’s big businessmen. They're East Coast suits: wealthy, career-minded and middle-aged. And they never cease to fascinate Begley, who seeks to mine the human depths hidden beneath the Armani pinstripe suit.
About Schmidt, which was published in 1996 and is Begley’s third novel, is the best example. It’s protagonist, Albert Schmidt, is a tough, recently widowed lawyer who is unnervingly anti-Semitic.
Despairing of his daughter Charlotte, who equates money with happiness, Schmidt embarks on a passionate affair with a shrewd and beautiful young Puerto Rican waitress, Carrie, whom he meets in a local restaurant. As his love for her grows, Carrie succeeds in humanizing Schmidt. The character struck a chord with Begley and he wrote a sequel, Schmidt Delivered, four years later.
Another middle-aged New York big shot who falls for a younger woman is the hero of Mistler’s Exit, published in 1999. Thomas Mistler is a Madison Avenue success story, who upon learning he has a fatal illness flees New York for Venice, where he falls for a beautiful young reporter.
Help from the toughest critic
Though Begley has always made a point of distancing himself from his characters, they are rife with autobiographical traces. "None of these characters would exist had I not invented them. Naturally, I gave these figures my feelings, my nightmares and day dreams." He adds that his characters "are all concerned with death and why we have such a rough time with the relationship between merit and punishment."
Though Begley continues to work in the high-power corridors of a New York law firm, drafting legal briefs by day, he also finds the time to invent the characters his readers have come to love. When he sets down to writing at his Sagaponack, New York, home on weekends and holidays, he often turns to one of his toughest critics for help -- his wife.
"My wife reads everything I write as I write it, and I say to her, 'Don't tell me whether it's good or bad. Just tell me whether it's boring.'"