John Updike” The Bech Triology and Early Stories (1953-1975)by Larry Cox on Jun. 15, 2012, under Uncategorized
Bech: A Book, Bech is Back, Bech at Bay, and The Early Stories, all by John Updike (Random House, Bech titles, $16 each softbound, Early Stories, $20 softbound)
Last month, this blog featured four titles by John Updike from Random House in the company’s continuing effort to republish and repackage the late author’s best work. Even the covers in these new editions sport the original design of the 1960 seminal novel “Rabbit, Run.”
This trilogy begins with “Bech: A Book,” that centers around a Jewish-American novelist, Henry Bech, a tart-tongued man faced with a flourishing reputation but declining powers. Updike once described Bech as the writer in himself, “creaking but lusty, battered but undiscourageable, fed on the blood of ink and the bread of white paper.” This is a wonderful piece of writing that grabs readers by the scruffs of their necks and doesn’t let go until the very last page.
“Bech is Back” finds the writer turning fifty, a man who is a confusing blend of civil and erotic circumstances while he promotes his books in Australia and Canada. After marrying a skiksa, he travels with her to Israel, where she falls in love with the land, and later to Scotland, where he feels a connection. Bech writes an ingeniously tawdry bestseller in this novel Time Magazine described as Updike “at the top of his craft.”
The final volume, “Bech at Bay,” finds Henry Bech older but certainly not wiser. Now in his seventies, he remains competitive, lecherous, and self-absorbed, lost in a brave new world where his books are hyped by Swiss-owned conglomerates, showcased in chain stores and returned to warehouses three weeks after publication.
“The Early Stories” features Updike 103 pieces, almost all short fiction, originally published between 1953 and 1975. These stories helped solidify Updike’s international literary reputation. The New York Times called them classic gems. Indeed.