Stephanie's Reviews > Rabbit at Rest

Rabbit at Rest by John Updike
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's review
Jan 27, 2009

it was amazing
Read in January, 2009

** spoiler alert ** January 27, 2009 -- My heart is grieving. John Updike died today.

January 18, 2009 -- I am so relieved to finally finish Rabbit at Rest, by John Updike, the last book in his Rabbit series. I am softened, too, by having read this final book. While I dislike the character of Rabbit Angstrom as much as ever, I have sympathy for the man. And it is a fitting response to a person's death to be able to put aside petty differences and to mourn along with those who loved him -- even if it is a love, like his wife's, Janice's, that seems born out of familiarity and habit than out of a shared sympathy of thought.

Throughout these four books, Updike has done a wonderful job of hearkening back to earlier moments in Rabbit's life, whether they be childhood memories that preceded the action in Rabbit, Run, or whether they are memories of events that transpired within the pages of any of the four book -- that is, events that I myself experienced through reading about them.

Similarly, Updike does a masterful job of closing the circle on Rabbit's life by repeating two significant episodes that began Rabbit, Run and that began my acquaintence with Rabbit. At the very beginning of the first book, Rabbit -- then, a twenty-something ex-high-school basketball star, still in good physical shape -- intrudes on a group of high schoolers playing basketball and bests them in a pick-up game. Disheartened, I think, with the contrast between the promise of his youth and the daily grind of his young adult life, he is prompted to try and escape his pregnant wife, Janice, and their young son, Nelson, and drives south into the night, hoping to reach the Gulf of Florida and dip his toes into the water. He never reaches the Gulf, but turns back -- only to refuse to return to his wife. Instead, he sets up house with Ruth, his prostitute-turned-lover, and sets into motion a disasterous chain of events whose ultimate conclusion -- the death by drowning of his baby daughter -- still has its icy fingers on Rabbit's life and on the lives of Janice and Nelson in the last book, Rabbit at Rest. And it is at the end of the last book that Rabbit, now old and enfeebled by heart disease, tries to escape these icy fingers by driving once again to Florida in a road trip that parallels the first one, now, however, to the condo that he and Janice own on the Gulf. Having finally reached Florida, he plays a last game of basketball -- intruding again on the life of a kid, a stranger to him, that he sees playing basketball. It is during this last game that he suffers what will ultimately be a fatal heart attack.

And herein, I suppose, lies the sympathy that I feel for Rabbit. We all make mistakes and hurt people, and we all will die in the end. And we all avoid learning from our mistakes, meaning that we are then condemned to repeat them. And I also guess that I believe we all have some spark of divinity within us, however minute.

I'll close with a quote. The speaker is Rabbit's heart doctor; Rabbit's answer is silent:

" 'What's wrong with running your blood through a machine? What else you think you are, champ?'

"A God-made one-of-a-kind with an immortal soul breathed in. A vehicle of grace. A battlefield of good and evil. An apprentice angel. All those things they tried to teach you in Sunday school, or really didn't try very hard to teach you, just let them drift in out of the pamphlets, back there in that church basement buried deeper in his mind than an air-raid shelter."

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