John Updike Bech Is Back.
Knopf, 165 pages, 13.95
Henry Bech is a celebrated, blocked American-Jewish novelist and the subject of two John Updike short-story collections, Bech: A Book (1970) and now Bech Is Back. Both volumes are satirical portraits of American literary life, and because that life has undergone drastic alteration since the 1960s Bech Is Back is not simply a sequel to Bech: A Book. In fact, the new work differs in surprising and often unsettling ways from its predecessor, and manages to tell us a great deal about Updike himself.
Bech: A Book begins with a letter “written” to Updike by the eponymous protagonist; Updike has apparently asked his character for a blessing on the book’s publication. Bech evaluates Updike’s performance as follows: “At first blush, . . . I sound like some gentlemanly Norman Mailer; then that . . . glimpse of...