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Bech at Bay, a Quasi-Novel by John UPDIKE

  • Author: John UPDIKE
  • Book title: Bech at Bay, a Quasi-Novel
  • Category: No category
  • Publisher: Hamish Hamilton; First British Edition edition (1999)
  • ISBN: 0241140277
  • ISBN13: 978-0241140277
  • Rating: 4.8
  • Votes: 333
  • Other formats: azw lit lrf txt
7 Reviews
This is the last in Updike's Bech trilogies. Like the others, it is rife with humor, warm humor. Bech continues his adventures as as esteemed author. His career has had his ups and downs, but sees life through his somewhat aged eyes. He has a wry but sane handle on the adventures in his field as he navigates professional meetings, literary parties, adulation from younger writers.
Another great Updike book.
Zeus Wooden
Bech at Bay is the last in the trilogy of novels about Henry Bech, John Updike's Jewish alter-ego. It lacks some of the prose sparkle of the last two Bech books, and as such, does not quite have the head of steam necessary to fulfill even Updike's modest goals. One is to make us laugh, which he accomplishes sometimes but not nearly enough for our effort and the second is to make observations about art, life, and creativity, which he does in abundance, stretching the believability of the plot and the characters to the breaking point.

In the end, I have great ambivalence about the Beck books, and Updike generally. What am I supposed to think of him? There is something slight about these books, even when they are decked out as serious observations of literature and life. Even the comedy is thin and a bit crude, lacking any essential punch. And that is what I want in my fiction. A punch. There are enough lulling, non-essential books and other forms of entertainment out there. I want my fiction to change my world. The Beck series does not come close to this at all.
How does one best review a literary genius? This is not going to be easy. Updike is an author I discovered in college, but haven't been seriously reading him since a couple years ago. I devoured "Roger's Version" and his latest short stories, and I didn't know what to expect with the latest Bech book. This is the first of the Bech books I have read. What an amazing book. Updike has a way of describing reality that makes it feel more important..almost surreal.

Bech, Updike's alter-ego, runs loose in this one, even resorting to murder of his least liked critics. If you are looking for very DARK humor, here is where to find it. In this pathetic yet somewhat brilliant character, we find some autobiographic hints about Updike himself I'm sure. Some of his dislike of critics is probably projected into Bech's harsh words. And at one point Bech wonders if he is polluting the world with subtle pornography, maybe something the author wonders about from time to time too.

Perhaps the best part of the book is the end when Bech gives a rambling but very interesting Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Sweden. This is something only Updike could write. He rambles on about mortality, religion, relationships and birth and death. Vintage Updike. He is a world class writer of the highest order.

Jeffrey McAndrew

author of "Our Brown-Eyed Boy"
Henry Bech, Updike's fictional writer, is back in five story length segments. Bech ages from mid-sixties to mid-seventies in the course of the book. In the first story, Bech travels to Czechoslovakia. He visits Kafka's grave, hangs out with the ambassador and his wife,and talks with local writers who are still under the Soviet regime. This story is meandering and the weakest effort in the book. In Bech Presides, the second story of the collection, he criticizes the end of this first story. Bech Presides is the best story in the book. Bech is pressured into heading an old NY literary society. The story is a brilliant combination of hidden motives and a reflection of changing cultural tastes. In the third story, Bech is sued for libel in LA. Bech's conflicting feelings for himself and for the plaintiff make this story succeed. 'Vengeance is mine.' Sayeth the writer, 'I shall repay' is the theme of story number 4, Bech Noir. HB gets back at unfriendly critics in a variety of ways. It's very amusing. Bech wins the Noble Prize in the fifth story. He contemplates Faulkner, but comes closer to Rudy Giuliani when he brings his baby daughter to the podium and lets her say hello. Bech's inability to think of a great speech is complemented by Updike's bland story. Stories 1 & 5, are weaker than 2,3 and 4. But overall Bech at Bay is enjoyable and highly recommended.
Mustard Forgotten
Bech at bay consists of five stories about the life of Henry Bech. He ages from mid-sixties to mid-seventies in the course of the book. The first story has Bech visiting Prague before the comunists have been thrown out. He visits Kafka's grave, hangs out with the ambassador, and talks with the local literary celebs who are still intimidated by the Bolshies. This story is aimless, and the weakest of the five entries. The second is Bech Presides.HB is talked into heading a NY literary organization. It's a brilliant study of cultural trends and hidden motives. It's brilliant, the best of the book. Third, Bech is sued in LA for libel. HB's conflicting feelings about himself and his accuser make this story appealing and engaging. Updike releases rage at unappreciative critics in Bech Noir.(JU, I'm praising the book, no need for vengeance with me.) It's wonderful fantasy at getting back at those who have harmed us. Tip! Use a sponge to seal your mail. Bech wins the Nobel prize in story number five. Bech doesn't know what to say, and uses a Giuliani-like technique at the podium. It's a good story, not great. Overall, stories 1 & 5 are very good. 2,3,4 are brilliant. Please read. Thank you.
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