Bech at Bay

John Updike, Author Knopf Publishing Group $23 (272p) ISBN 978-0-375-40368-2
At this juncture of his life, ""semiobscure"" literary writer Henry Bech (Bech: A Book; Bech Is Back) may be ""at bay""--attacked by fellow writers, sued for libel, derided by critics, consumed by worry about his place in the literary pantheon--but his creator, Updike, is writing with undiminished energy and a bellyfull of chuckles. In five interrelated sections that move backward and forward through time, from 1986, when the 63-year-old Bech is again in Prague, to 1999, when he accepts the Nobel Prize with his eight-month-old daughter in his arms, Bech pursues his craft, an assortment of women, vengeance and peace of mind, veering between misery and elation, bathing in self-doubt or preening egotistically. Updike uses this opportunity to air issues besetting the arts in the 1990s--both the factionalism within the literary community and the dwindling interest in the arts without. Updike evokes Bech's Jewish persona with gusto, endowing him with a Yiddish vocabulary, self-deprecation, irony, guilt and a sense of being an outsider in society despite his acclaim. The most entertaining section, one step away from farce, is ""Bech Noir,"" in which the writer, with the help of his young lover and a computer, systematically does away with the critics who have disparaged his work. Equally amusing is Bech's stint as president of an august literary society in ""Bech Presides"": Updike drolly implants recognizable traits of living writers in the members of the Forty, and extends the joke by interpolating references to Pynchon, Salinger, Gaddis, Sontag and others of his contemporaries. In this and other sections, he has fun reflecting the backbiting and jealousy of the ""Manhattan intelligentsia, a site saturated in poisonous envy and reflexive intolerance."" While not a ""big"" book for Updike, this is an insightful and amusing look at the American literary scene. Editor, Judith Jones; first serial to the New Yorker; simultaneous Random House audio. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/28/1998
Release date: 10/01/1998
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
X
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Lost Password

PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital editions of PW (online or via our app). For instructions on how to set up your accout for digital access, click here. For more information, click here.

The part of the site you are trying to access is now available to subscribers only. Subscribers: to set up your digital subscription with the new system (if you have not done so already), click here. To subscribe, click here.

Email pw@pubservice.com with questions.

Not Registered? Click here.