Dorothy's Reviews > Rabbit, Run

Rabbit, Run by John Updike
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Mar 13, 09

bookshelves: contemporary-literature
Read in March, 2009

I first read this book many years ago when it was first a sensation. It was back in the late '60s and I was a college student. Updike was just becoming a well-known persona on the literary scene.

After Updike's death a few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to read the "Rabbit" series as a kind of homage to him. He was a great writer and I regretted that I had never finished reading this, his signature series. I regretted also that, though I knew that I had read "Rabbit, Run," I could hardly remember anything about it. I decided to remedy that.

The book is a mesmerizing read. It reads almost like a poem. The language is poetic. It is as if not a word could be extracted from it without changing its meaning. In some ways, certain parts of the book reminded of Joyce's "Ulysses," particularly the famous last chapter of that book. It seemed almost stream of consciousness in its structure.

Recently, I saw an interview of Updike and John Cheever that was done by Dick Cavett many years ago. In the interview, Cavett asked Updike about the fact that he never wrote any steamy sex scenes in his books. Updike agreed that he didn't write such scenes, because that really wasn't his focus or his purpose. I guess it's all in how you define "steamy sex scenes" but some of the scenes here seemed pretty steamy to me. They are subtle and not explicit but no less titillating for that.

But let's get right to it. Rabbit Angstrom is an asshole. He is a self-regarding, self-indulgent, in fact totally selfish individual who has no regard for the circumstances of others except as they relate to himself or benefit himself in some way. His emotional development is stuck at the time when he was a star high school basketball player, where he was not known as a "team player."

On a whim, he abandons a very pregnant wife and his son and tries to drive south. But when that becomes uncomfortable, he can't go through with it. He turns around and goes back, but instead of going home he winds up shacked up with a prostitute.

He refuses to allow her to use contraceptives and doesn't use them himself because he "doesn't like them" - with predictable results. She becomes pregnant. He is not perceptive enough to notice and, in time, abandons her in turn when he learns his wife is in labor.

He is at first fascinated by his new daughter and returns to his family but soon the whole situation becomes inconvenient and the first rule in Rabbit's world is that Rabbit must never be inconvenienced. One night he takes off leaving his unstable wife alone to care for his two-year-old son and the newborn baby. With tragic results for the family.

Rabbit runs from everything, but mostly he runs from responsibility and that is where we see him at the end of the book. The reader knows (now) that there is more of the story to come. Perhaps at some juncture, Rabbit will redeem himself. At this point, there is very little to like about him.
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03/11/2009 page 110
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