RABBIT, RUN (1960)
This novel is about a self-indulgent young man whose wife has a drinking problem and is pregnant with a second child.. Hubbie leaves to shack up with a callgirl, who gets pregnant. The wife has the baby but drowns the infant in the bathtub while she is at home drunk.
The story has much Sturm und Drang and too many passages that are overwritten (in a Faulknerian mode).
RABBIT REDUX (1971)
It is probably best to read the Rabbit books in the right order, not as I have done. This may be the climactic novel in the series, although the death of the baby in the previous novel was dramatic enough to serve as a focus for future events, too.
Still, it is in Rabbit Redux that racial questions are in the foreground, and we see Harry Angstrom leaning over backwards to "tolerate" Skeeter, the young black man who imposes himself and his lectures and dogmatism on Rabbit and his son Nelson, as well as on Jill, the young woman whom Rabbit has "rescued" at a local bar and brought home with him to live. She is only a few years older than his son Nelson and of course much younger than Rabbit.
The story ends in tragedy, with the Angstrom house destroyed by fire and Jill dead in the conflagration. Here is where Updike's storytelling skill seems to fail. Too little is made of Jill's death. How is it that Harry's wife--separated from him but living in the same town and in contact with Harry's parents at least, as well as able to read the local newspaper--doesn't even know that Jill has died in the fire when she talks to Harry later?
I have other quibbles with this book. The sex scenes are superabundant in descriptive detail, and every time I get the feeling that I'm looking through the keyhole at someone's bedroom scene that was assumed to be private. But I'm out of step with the times, clearly.
The character of Skeeter is superbly drawn. Skeeter lives and has no false notes. He is a black revolutionary like many another, but he is not just stereotypical.
Updike has served up a slice of 1969 America, preserved for all to see. What stands out starkly in this portrait of upper-middle-class suburbia is the racial hostility and fear. This needed to be shown in all its ugliness.
24 March 2005
RABBIT IS RICH (1981)
Harry Angstrom is middle-aged and successful in the car dealership he has taken over from his late father-in-law. Living in his mother-in-law's house with his wife, he finds that he often has to let the two women determine what goes on in the business.
The most interesting aspect of this Rabbit novel is the relationship between Harry and his son. The author has father-son tensions down pat here--the father's tendency to expect too much of his son, the son's chafing at the bit in his conviction that his new ideas for the business are winners.
The people in the novel swap bed partners, and they are people for whom lust is almost a parlor game. They are also people who speak of "spicks" and "jigaboos." The time is 1979-1980, but even then these prejudices were typical of many people in the United States.
There is a lot of satire in this novel. Harry Angstrom and his family and friends are being mocked here, up and down and sideways. They are shown to be materialistic, shallow, and destructive. Harry's son Nelson and the woman he has to marry are the pitiable victims in these messy, tangled lives.
9 November 2004
RABBIT AT REST (1990)
Perhaps a reader who hasn't read all of the Rabbit novels has not earned a right to pass judgment on this one--the novel where Harry Angstrom (Rabbit) dies. However, as a reader who doesn't quite grasp the immense popularity of Updike's fiction, I'd like to remark that one reason for the popularity has to be that it is so often larded with explicit sexual descriptions.
Some of the comments in this novel--Rabbit's observations on the passing scene, for instance--are amusing and pointed, but this novel of Updike's will need considerable annotation in a few years simply because of its all-too-frequent use of brand-names. To be sure, brand-names are a part of American culture nowadays, but do we have to have them thrown at us so liberally when we read a novel?
Still, there are some poignant and sad moments in this story, particularly as we see Rabbit struggling to come to terms with aging and trying--much too hard--to belong somewhere again.
25 February 2004