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Bech at Bay

Updike, John

296 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 037540368X / ISBN 13: 9780375403682
Published by Knopf, 1998
Condition: Fine Hardcover
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About this Item

First Edition (first printing). The third Henry Bech collection by the author of the RABBIT novels and PIGEON FEATHERS. Fine/Fine. Signed by Updike on the title page. Bookseller Inventory # 75175

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Bech at Bay

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: 1998

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Signed: Signed by Author

Edition: 1st Edition.

About this title

Synopsis:

Henry Bech, the moderately well known Jewish-American writer who served as the hero of John Updike's previous Bech: A Book (1970) and Bech Is Back (1982), has become older but scarcely wiser. In these five new chapters from his life, he is still at bay, pursued by the hounds of desire and anxiety, of unbridled criticism and publicity in a literary world ever more cheerfully crass. He fights intimations of annihilation in still-Communist Czechoslovakia, while promiscuously consorting with dissidents, apparatchiks, and Midwestern Republicans. Next, he succumbs to the temptations of power by accepting the presidency of a quaint and cosseted honorary body patterned on the Académie Française. Then, the reader finds him on trial in California and on a criminal rampage in a gothic Gotham, abetted by a nubile sidekick called Robin. Lastly, our septuagenarian veteran of the literary wars is rewarded with a coveted medal, stunning him into a well-deserved silence. It's not easy being Henry Bech in the post-Gutenbergian world, but somebody has to do it, and he brings to the task an indomitable mixture of grit and ennui.

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

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