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Bech is Back by John Updike
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The late author John Updike's birthday is March 18th, and sometime after I began reading him regularly (I think 2007 or 2008 -- he passed in 2009), recognizing his birthday has put me in the mood to read one of his works during his birthday month. I have a separate TBR pile of his works away from all of the rest of my TBRs (TBR = to be read). This year, for March, I read "Bech is Back", the second of the Henry Bech trilogy. The first "Bech: A Book" I read in 2012 and gave 3 stars. This one gets 3 1/2 stars, as I feel the characters were more developed.

As with the first book in the trilogy, "Bech is Back" is a series of stories (in the case of this second book, some stories were originally published in Playboy magazine and The New Yorker before being compiled here). Bech marries Bea. He struggles in the role of being a married man. And, as with the first book, travel to different destinations take a role here.

I'm not sure when I'll pick up the final book in this trilogy, "Bech at Bay" -- I'd like to read at least one other of Updike's works before I do so -- but I actually am curious about how the sharing of the life of Henry Bech concludes. So it may be sooner rather than later.

Some quotes:

About a fan of Bech that Bech meets in person after having had conversed with him by mail and by phone:

"This was the voice, but the man looked nothing like it -- sallow and sour, yet younger than he should have been, with not an ounce of friendly fat on him, in dark trousers, white shirt, and suspenders. He was red-eyed from his nap, and his hair, barely flecked by gray, stood straight up. The lower half of his face had been tugged into deep creases by the drawstrings of some concluded sorrow." (p. 9)

After Bech moves from the city into a house with Bea (and her three kids) -- which is the house she had occupied with her ex-husband:

"Now Bech was installed in the mansion like a hermit crab tossed into a birdhouse. The place was much too big; he couldn't get used to the staircases and the volumes of air they arrogantly commandeered, or the way the heat didn't pour knocking out of steam radiators from an infernal source concealed many stories below but instead seeped from thin pipes sneaking low around the baseboards, pipes kept warm by personalized monthly bills and portentous wheezing visits from the local oil trucks. In the cellar, you could see the oil tanks--two huge rust-brown things greasy to the touch. And here was the furnace, an old converted coal-burner in a crumbling overcoat of plastered asbestos, rumbling and muttering all through the night like a madman's brain." (p. 105) ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Apr 3, 2014 |
Copying in comments from a reading in 2004:

I began this book thinking that it would be another dull "literature" book. I had John Updike vaguely confused with Upton Sinclair and thought Sinclar wrote like Steinbeck. I skimmed the first 50 pages or so on the plane before I realized that this book did have something to offer. I should read the beginning again.

"this woman...liked even the whiff of hairy savagery about..."
"Less and less the author understood how people lived." (pg 58)
"You've always been weak, Henry, but weak in your own way before, not somebody else's." (pg 162)
"It's hard to read anything," Bech admitted, "if you're gainfully employed." (pg 172)
"This modern age, it puts a lot of stress on women. Too many decisions." (pg 177)

The book rambled at times like the book I'd read previously, and, as with many books, I "inhaled" it rather than read it. It was rich with irony and subtle insights. However, I remembered the foreword to the Left Hand of Darkness and the talk about how writers spin their own truths... and that seemed especially true here. Updike threw out a lot of "truths" hoping that some would stick. He used characters to communicate them and leave himself blameless. The things they say or think might be right, but they sound like realistic things to say or think. The characterization in this book was good. I think exaggeration must be necessary.

Great book. By comparison, the book I read after this on the plane, was horrible. Saturn by Ben Bova (popular sci-fi novel) felt empty. It was a chore to read. ( )
  jcrben | Sep 14, 2013 |
Portrait d'un célèbre romancier juif américain menacé par l'âge, la morosité et la stérilité. Une chronique qu'on peut supposer nourrie d'autobiographie et qui, au second degré (comme le souligne Victor-Lévy Beaulieu, dans ##Le Devoir## du 10 novembre 1984, p. 26) constitue 'une critique cinglante de l'institution littéraire américaine, dans tous les rouages de sa chaîne'.
1 vote PierreYvesMERCIER | Feb 19, 2012 |
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BECQUE (Henry) . . . Après des débuts poétiques assez obscurs . . . à travers des inexpériences et des brutalités voulues, un talent original et vigoureux. Toutefois, l'auteur ne reparut que beaucoup plus tard avec [oeuvres nombreuses], où la critique signala [N.B. 'signals' in the first and second printings of the first edition] les mêmes défauts et la même puissance. . . . M. Becque a été décoré de la Légion d'honneur en 1887. --LA GRANDE ENCYCLOPÉDIE.
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Though Henry Bech, the author, in his middle years had all but ceased to write, his books continued, as if ironically, to live, to cast shuddering shadows toward the center of his life, where that thing called his reputation cowered. ("Three Illuminations in the Life of an American Author")
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0394528069, Hardcover)

In this follow-up to Bech: A Book, Henry Bech, the priapic, peripatetic, and unproductive Jewish American novelist, returns with seven more chapters from his mock-heroic life. He turns fifty in a confusing blend of civic and erotic circumstances while publicizing himself in Australia and Canada. He marries a shiksa and travels with her to Israel, where she falls in love with the land, and to Scotland, where he does. And—sweating buckets! thinking big! minting miracles!he writes an ingeniously tawdry bestseller. Bech’s aesthetic and moral embarrassments reveal acid truths about both his trade and our times.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:06 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In this follow-up to Bech: A Book, Henry Bech, the priapic, peripatetic, and unproductive Jewish American novelist, returns with seven more chapters from his mock-heroic life. He turns fifty in a confusing blend of civic and erotic circumstances while publicizing himself in Australia and Canada. He marries a shiksa and travels with her to Israel, where she falls in love with the land, and to Scotland, where he does. And--sweating buckets! thinking big! minting miracles!--he writes an ingeniously tawdry bestseller. Bech's aesthetic and moral embarrassments reveal acid truths about both his trade and our times.

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