Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
John Updike’s Bech: A Book is composed of loosely related stories featuring Updike’s fictional literary alter ego Henry Bech, a Jewish novelist from Manhattan who diverges from his creator in numerous significant ways, chief among them his religion and persistent writer’s block. Bech first appeared in “The Bulgarian Poetess” and subsequently became the vehicle through which Updike wrote about his literary travels and satirized the publishing industry. Although the stories were originally published separately, Updike arranged them in a loose picaresque series and added other unpublished material to create a short-story sequence similar to his Olinger Stories (1964) and Too Far to Go (1979). Updike’s assignment of the subtitle “a book” indicates the volume’s intermediate status between a novel and a miscellaneous story collection.
The volume begins with a foreword purportedly written as a letter by Bech to Updike. Bech parses his own literary resemblance to other famous living Jewish writers, as well as to Updike himself, praises Updike for treating the oppression of writers by the publishing industry, criticizes him for his prose, and ultimately bestows his blessing on Updike’s representation of him. This device hints slyly at the volume’s overall themes, establishes its pervasive satirical tone, and provides an ironic critique of Updike’s portrait of the artist while establishing the main character’s...
(The entire section is 1847 words.)
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