Steven's Reviews > Rabbit at Rest

Rabbit at Rest by John Updike
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Jun 10, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: pulitzer, florida, updike, suburban-angst
Read in June, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Enough - so ends the fourth installment of the Rabbit series and Rabbit himself in “Rabbit at Rest.” Set in both sunny southwest Florida and in good-old Brewer, Pennsylvania during the period 1988-1990, Rabbit is now quite far removed from his glory high school basketball days. Rabbit should be happy, financially content and living in the paradise portion of Florida, but he is not. He is really pretty mean to his wife, he is very mean to his cocaine addicted son, Nelson, and he is not very nice to his grandkids. Janice, his wife, has now decided that she is interested in becoming a real estate agent, and Rabbit feels more isolated than ever.

In the wake of this isolation, Rabbit commits an unpardonable sin and has sex with his son’s wife, Pru. He is then virtually disowned by his family and he does what he does best, he runs away, back to Florida. The Rabbit series comes full circle as he suffers his second and final heart attack after playing basketball with some young kids.

In reading various reviews on the goodreads site I notice quite a good deal of anger about the book, how it has not aged well and one poster even surmising what it says about the men who like this book. Point well taken, Rabbit is a loser, misogynist, racist, and a real son of a gun. My favorite Rabbit moment is when he tells the widow of his dead lover, Thelma in this novel that she was “a fantastic lay.” I am struck by these sentiments and in many ways I see them as completely besides the point. There is a line from “Bel Canto” that talks about loving someone for who they are and not the things they do. I will concede that virtually all of the things that Rabbit does are unlovable, but I think maybe there is something in him, something about who he is that is endearing. With that, I don’t mind conceding that I was emotionally moved at the conclusion of the novel. I think Rabbit is worth reading and worth liking, not really for what he does, but maybe in spite of it. Quite in contrast with the poster who notes that this book does not age well, I think it is one of those books that I can appreciate more at age thirty-one than I could’ve appreciated at twenty-one. There is a line in the novel (and I am stealing this from a much better review) where Rabbit is remarking about the beauty of the pear trees in blossom in his hometown and Janice responds that Rabbit has seen it before, he just sees it differently now. I think that might be useful advice for some of those out there that loathe this book and this character.

Couple of other things that bear mentioning that I especially liked about this book is again how Updike uses the time period to great effect. In the final of the Reagan years, Rabbit remarks that we have seen eight years of everything falling apart, “of nobody minding the store, making money out of nothing, running up debt, trusting in God.” Oddly, I think it is very much the “me first” classic baby boomer protagonist (note, not hero) who is perhaps best suited to chronicle the greed and dwindling concern for others that so defines this era. Also, I have placed this book within my “Florida” shelf even though at best, half the action is set in Florida. The Southwest Florida that Updike describes her is just incredible. All the retirees who struggle in Fort Myers who struggle to explain exactly how far away Disney World is, the condominiums and their decadent dinners, the heat, the charm of US 27 South from Sebring, the draw of the Gulf, why the West Coast of Florida is somewhat superior to the East Coast, etc., Updike captures it all very well.

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