Having just finished the novel, my thoughts seem scattered and random. I have such a raw feeling about this book, an unanswered angst. I guess this is why Updike named his character Harry Rabbitâ€ Angstrom. He gets himself into many "hairy" situations, and his solution is to run from his problems. It seems silly to be processing this novel in this way, but the novel is so full of metaphors and symbolism, that it is difficult to escape even the subtle inferences of names. His father-in-law owns several car dealerships, which he refers to as lots. Harry has received everything in his life from the lot, it is his lot in life but I digress.
Style: Updike uses punctuation in a way that adds to his character's feelings. Harry often feels trapped, and as a trapped rabbit he has hyper-active reactions in many places in the narrative. The sparing use of the comma forces the reader to read at a pace that is often relentless. In one section the sentence dragged of for over a page. The reader gets an agonized trapped feeling, like "When is this sentence ever going to end?" and it plays well with Harry's feelings as well. Updike never uses a chapter break. Harry doesn't get one, neither do we.
Theme: Updike uses imagery to control tense moments in his prose. He uses it to control sexually explicit scenes as well, instead of handling them in a pornographic way. For example: "They want you up and hard on their little edge. The thing is to play them until just a touch. You can tell: their skin under the fur gets all loose like a puppy's neck." The image dilutes the graphic nature of what Harry/Updike is describing.
Harry is obviously a male character, and he even borders on the stereotypical male at times. But Updike uses a keen sense of imagery to manipulate each scene. On the back cover of the book, the Kansas City Star is quoted, "A lacerating story of loss and seeking, written in prose that is charged with emotion but is always held under impeccable control." How can a story be lacerating, if it is under control you ask? By walking the edge between the lyrical, and the vulgar. Harry's angst is as much a part of his spiritual being, as it is a part of his sexual being. I look at my notes under a heading labeled "themes" and skin, sex, and smells (beef) are the three I have listed. I am realizing as I type that this may be all the same theme, and fall under the broad heading of skin. Images of skin permeate the text, and it starts with people not being able to live their lives in their own skin. Skin is a sexual, visceral part of the text in many respects. Even the smell of beef roasting is described in several scenes (the minister's house!), and is in fact flesh. Possibly the fact that Updike has suffered from psoriasis his entire life, may contribute to the obsession with skin. Other scents are described throughout the novel, giving it a rich feel of normalcy. One doesn't often dwell on the smells of the day, yet how many can we describe when we think about and entire 24-hour period?
Over-all, I found the novel to be an extraordinary read, and still very relevant today. Having recently been through a divorce, with children, this novel had a very visceral affect on me, which I am still feeling, and will be considering for many days to come.