Actuality is a running impoverishment of possibility"--thus the reduction ad diverting absurdum of Bech, man manque and failed artist for whom there can be no spiritual Baume Bengue. Failed Jewish artist with an "anti-Semitic Semitic sensibility" whose first success Travel Light is light years away--like twelve. Whose current creative activity consists of ideas for Commentary he will never put down on paper; whose diminishment of potency, whether for a new "romance or a roman," cribs and crowds him on all sides. Bech, ech, he's just a "fleck of dust condemned to know it is a fleck of dust." Updike's writer, unlike Malamud's painter Fidelman, is non-situational comedy and all of the humor comes from his resilient character. Beth, however blocked artistically, manages to get around and away from his native Riverside Drive. In Russia where he buys two mink "still wearing their dried snarls" for his mother and an astrakhan hat for his equally curly head; in Rumania where he has a more limited cultural exchange; in Bulgaria where he meets a poetess, the "central woman" he had always expected to appear; in London go-going with one Merissa; etc., etc. Some may have forgotten that Updike began his working-writing career as a humorist on The New Yorker but still Bech should come as no surprise, only as a confirmation of his convertible talent. Others may have read several of these pieces before--particularly "The Bulgarian Poetess" which appeared in his own earlier collection and in the O. Henry where it placed first, in any case, it travels very light across the literary scene with scampish recognitions and elegant annotations. And of course with enough style to assure that the chicken soup is indeed an aspic.