Friday, November 22, 2013

Bech: A Book

Having recently completed my first foray into the oeuvre of late author John Updike with his sublime and melancholy Rabbit Angstrom series, I knew that I wanted to continue to discover his works. My next choice after a bit of research was to read his trilogy about author Henry Bech. Henry is a fictional creation, but he represents in some ways, Updike's alter ego. Though there are many personal and physical differences, Bech often becomes a vehicle for expressing Updike's feelings of how the world can pressure and tax a successful artist, beating him down, turning him into a shell of what he once was. Whether through unending demands, unrelenting flattery, or unforgiving questions of "What's next?" or "What have you done for me lately?".

In the first book in the series, Bech: A Book published in 1970, we meet Henry Bech. Single, Jewish, mid-40s. Bech hit it big with his first book, Travel Light, and has been struggling to live up to the public's expectations ever since. Bech captures his own essence with precision:

Henry Bech, with his thinning curly hair and melancholy Jewish nose, the author of one good book and three others, the good one having come first. By a kind of oversight, he had never married. His reputation had grown while his powers decreased.

As we get to know Bech, he is a dry well. He has not written anything noteworthy or new for that matter in many a year. He subsists by embarking on one personal appearance after another. Yet he still holds out hope that some place or somebody will appear as a muse to relight his spirit. A gripping read, written more in the style of a biography by Bech himself, each new chapter in the book representing the latest chapter in his life. Now, onto the second book in the series, Bech is Back.