Friday, December 6, 2013

Bech is Back

The second entry in John Updike's trilogy on his alter ego Henry Bech is entitled Bech is Back. In the first entry, Bech: A Book, we were introduced to author Henry Bech, who was simply drifting along through life, a decade passing since he had last found his muse. His reputation was built upon his first published work, which became a well-read classic. He had then written three more books, none of which had garnered any positive criticism or any modicum of commercial success. Whether it was the struggle of creativity, the tedious nature of the writing game, or the frustration of further tarnishing his legacy, Bech had become content to simply drift into middle age, coasting on his reputation and earning a living by touring the world on various speaking engagements. After a time, Bech simply became resigned to who he was and what he had become.

Bech felt that he had been cast by life into a role it amused him to not quite fill.

In Bech is Back, Bech at 50 faces a moment of dissatisfaction with his lot and makes the rash decision to get married to his lover. Bea does not represent someone to whom he is particularly compatible, but she is a choice that represents to him stability. Once married, Bech gives up his Manhattan apartment and moves into his wife's suburban home. When she begins to nag at him to write again, he begrudgingly takes up penning his next book, the ghost of which has been drifting in his mind for some years. He took up writing again not because he felt particularly stirred in this direction, he did it more to spite his wife. When his new book is finished, he is more than taken aback when it becomes a best seller. Just as his book has thrust him back into the limelight more than 20 years since he was the next great thing, some impulse within him, for reasons that even Bech likely couldn't pinpoint, leads him to sleep with his wife's sister, who happens to be one of his old lovers. His wife then divorces him and Bech is back to where he started. Bech is back to being single, drifting, and doing whatever it was that he was doing before, hoping that he can just finish out his life without having to give anymore of himself.

Now onto the final book in the trilogy, Bech at Bay.