John Updike Bech at Bay

ISBN 13: 9780140278279

Bech at Bay

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9780140278279: Bech at Bay

Bech is back in fine, fierce form in this quasi-novel, the third of Updike's books about the peripatetic Jewish-American author forever embattled by his literary peers, critics, and not a few women.

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Review:

After recounting almost every detail of Rabbit Angstrom's mental, spiritual, and (especially) erotic life for almost four decades, John Updike laid his brilliant creation to rest in 1990. Another of his ongoing characters, however, has remained at large--Henry Bech. In Bech at Bay, Updike revives his philandering Jewish American novelist for one last trip through that wringer we call the writer's life. Like his creator, Bech is getting on in years. And although age cannot wither his considerable sexual appetites nor custom stale his cantankerous charms, he is uncomfortably aware of his mortality. In the first episode, during a visit to pre-perestroika Czechoslovakia, the "semi-obscure American author" is taken to view Kafka's grave, and the sight gives him the willies: "It all struck Bech as dumbfoundingly blunt and engimatic, banal and moving. Such blankness, such stony and peaceable reification, waits for us at the bottom of things." His own proximity to the bottom of things is what gives Bech at Bay an extra dose of sobriety. For the first time, Updike's ingratiating impersonation of a Jew--who shares the author's lapidary style, sizable nose, and not much else--is not only supremely amusing but moving.

Which isn't to say that all is gloomy in Bechville. Updike keeps things breezy throughout, as his hero is seduced and subpoenaed, excoriated and honored, finally, with the Nobel Prize. Only once does the author lose his footing, with "Bech Noir": this world-class nebbish just doesn't cut it as serial killer, and even the prose goes untypically to pot. But otherwise the book is a delight, venting all the nastiness about literary life that Updike always purges from his own more genteel (not to mention Gentile) persona. It's also an elegant meditation on literary being and nothingness. "A character," we are told, "suffers from the fear that he will become boring to the author, who will simply let him drop, without so much as a terminal illness or a dramatic tumble down the Reichenbach Falls in the arms of Professor Moriarty. For some years now, Bech had felt his author wanting to set him aside, to get him off the desk forever." Here Updike proves himself Nabokov's equal in the metafictional sweepstakes--and makes us hope that his doppelgänger will get one last reprieve. --James Marcus

From the Publisher:

Bech at Bay is brilliant"
--David Lodge, New York Review of Books

"A comic delight...the ultimate wasp has produced another wonderful piece of Jewish fiction. In this, his third go-round with soulful Manhattan literary lion Henry Bech, Updike gets under his character's skin as naturally as Sinatra inhabits the soul of a heartbroken guy at the bar at 3a.m."
--David Lehman, People

"I suspect you'll find it irresistible"
--Alex Beam, Boston Globe

"If you're anything literary--writer, publisher, even critic, you'll love it. And if you're not, you'll love it too...Everything Bech-Updike has to say about the writing life is awful, hilarious and true"
--Caroline Angier, Wall Street Journal

"Updike unbound--at his most frolicsome & funniest"
--Kirkus Reviews

"Bech at Bay is wise and funny, charming & pointed"
--Joan Mellen, Baltimore Sun

"A mordantly comic look at the literary life"
--Paul Gray, Time

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