Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bech, A Book

Bech, A Book, is both entertaining and serious, elevated and dirty, a satire and yet a pointed, realistic look at the life of a writer.  I suppose this novel, like much of Updike’s work (that I have read) is plagued by these contractions.  Few writers of his generation could produce sentences with such gorgeous clarity as Updike; his similes are without compare.  But when you look at the whole, when you stretch back from his pungent observations, you realize that behind that gorgeous language, those detailed details, there is little that holds the book together.  There are no ‘big ideas’ to support the lattice work of language, and here is where Bech, A Book, fails.

On another level, the novel suffers from a serious time warp.  Bech is able to support himself as a writer even though his output is low, and his fame was achieved long ago.  Yet in Bech, A Book he makes a fine living which most writers today would find envious.  Bech has the luxury to waste time, in an era when time went slower.  When a writer reads Bech, A Book, he or she may wonder, what exactly is Bech whining about?

YET, the book has considerable merit.  Updike earned his keep, writing a great deal, and Bech, his Jewish alter ego, keeps you wanting to turn the page.  I always claim that is the dead-end-last marker of a book's worth.  Should you turn the page?  Yes, you should.

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