Tuesday, March 23, 2004

After finishing the first Updike story 'The Wait' I started to ask myself what was it about Updike that I liked so much. Part of it is the humour, the humour draws you in and then you get moments when he is explaining about human nature. Part of it that the characters are so real. I almost feel like talking to them sometimes. Also the writing is very smooth and sophisticated. It flows very well and he draws the picture very well. The environment seems to come back again and you feel you are in DC airport at the end of the sixties. Part of the appeal of the last story was that I knew what Washington was like and I had a fair idea what DC airport was like.

The next story 'Bech in Romania' is about an American writer who travels through Romania. It is quite fascinating to read about Romania in the 60s. It is a bit like a communist back-water. I don't feel as drawn to it as the last story. There aren't as many moments when you get a real insight into the characters. Perhaps I just haven't read enough of it yet. There is one quite humorous part about the taxi ride to Brasov which reminds me strongly of the taxi ride to Oxapampa in the forests of Peru.

"Bech realized that Petrescu himself did not drive. He
reposed in the oblivious trust of an airplane passenger, legs
crossed, sunglasses in place, issuing smoother and smoother
phrases, while Bech leaned forward desperately, braking
on the empty floor, twitching a wheel that was not there,
trying to wrench the car's control away from this atrociously
unrhythmic and brutal driver. When they went through
a village, the driver would speed up and intensify the mutter
of his honking; clusters of peasants and geese exploded
in disbelief, and Bech felt as if gears, the gears that space
and engage the mind, were clashing. As they ascended into
the mountains, the driver demonstrated his technique with
curves: he approached each like an enemy, accelerating,
and at the last moment stepped on the brake as if crushing
something underfoot. In the jerking and swaying, Petrescu
grew pale. His blue jaw acquired a moist sheen and issued
phrases less smoothly. Bech said to him, 'This driver should
be locked up. He is sick and dangerous.'
'No, no, he is a good man. These roads, they are difficult.'
'At least please ask him to stop twiddling the horn. It's
torture.'
Petrescu's eyebrows arched, but he leaned forward and
spoke in Romanian.
The driver answered; the language clattered in his
mouth, though his voice was soft.
Petrescu told Bech, 'He says it is a safety precaution.'"

from John Updike 'Bech in Romania' in Penguin Modern Stories 2

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