MJ Nicholls's Reviews > Rabbit Redux
by John Updike
by John Updike
This book is where the Angstroms became the Osbournes, without the cracking heavy metal catalogue. Or, as other reviewers have pointed out, it’s where Updike tackles Big Questions of American politics and culture within his sexy literary soap opera framework. I also see I was wrong in attempting to empathise with Angstrom—he’s clearly being set up as a Great White Dope, where racist and sexist poison accumulates and infects those unfortunate enough to fall under his sway. So we open with Rabbit’s domestic downfall: Janice has started an affair with a tachycardic Greek and his son Nelson has come to despise pop’s casual racism. Then the book veers into political and social territory as Rabbit picks up teenage prostitute Jill and installs her in his home as a live-in whore. A hippie child spurned by her parents, she is the only likeable character in the whole shebang. And this makes the ‘Skeeter’ section infuriating to read. Skeeter is a Vietnam vet and drug pusher who tries to educate Rabbit in black history over a series of after-dinner talks (Rabbit lets Skeeter stay in his front room), who shoots Jill up on mescaline when Harry’s not looking and spits out the vilest misogynist trash in front of the kid. So we’re sucked into this 150-page spiral, knowing Jill is going to perish at the hands of these imbeciles, screaming at the book GET THIS POOR JUNKIE TO HER MOTHER, but alas, she meets the grizzliest end Updike can imagine, leaving me frazzled with indignation and confusion. Is this scabrous social comment, or a piece of callous authorship? Veering towards the latter. Rabbit’s utter indifference to Jill’s death is also completely ludicrous—his character withers a great deal in this book, which is compelling but oh-so-deeply flawed. I could say more. I’ll spare you. Moira has some good analysis here.
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