Bech at Bay is the last in the trilogy of novels about Henry Bech, John Updike’s Jewish alter-ego. It lacks some of the prose sparkle of the last two Bech books, and as such, does not quite have the head of steam necessary to fulfill even Updike’s modest goals. One is to make us laugh, which he accomplishes sometimes but not nearly enough for our effort and the second is to make observations about art, life, and creativity, which he does in abundance, stretching the believability of the plot and the characters to the breaking point.
In the end, I have great ambivalence about the Beck books, and Updike generally. What am I supposed to think of him? There is something slight about these books, even when they are decked out as serious observations of literature and life. Even the comedy is thin and a bit crude, lacking any essential punch. And that is what I want in my fiction. A punch. There are enough lulling, non-essential books and other forms of entertainment out there. I want my fiction to change my world. The Beck series does not come close to this at all.