Ben's Reviews > Rabbit, Run

Rabbit, Run by John Updike
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Mar 04, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2009, feminism-and-or-gender-related, romantic-love-and-hate, memorable-characters, important-message, families
Read in March, 2009

On the surface, Rabbit, Run is about a guy who runs around on his son and pregnant wife, and ends up living with a prostitute. Real interesting, right? Actually, yes. Because the characters come to life and they’re struggling with their own moral weaknesses and existential problems -- their problems and interactions are truly believable. So this is an interesting story, because Updike can write, and he pulls it off.

But first, I must explain why my rating is only 3 stars (or, 3 and a half, really).

Never, at any point in my life, have I been good with concrete details.. No, let me rephrase that: Never, at any point in my life, have I been anything other than poor with concrete details. Little details that people notice -- the small visual treasures appreciated by most -- are often lost upon me. My sense of direction is embarrassing. My mechanical abilities are almost nonexistent. The color and types of friend's cars, the outer appearance of houses... all of them, I'm typically oblivous to.

But I'm quite happy immersing myself in the world of my head; the world of figuring things out, of daydreaming, and the like. That's where I'm comfortable. I retreat into my head naturally and easily -- it's where I typically choose to live when given the choice. But.... if I really try -- I mean, if I really put in the effort -- I can sometimes get myself to the point of noticing, engaging with, and appreciating outer details. But it takes effort. Massive, draining effort.

Updike is amazing with these concrete details -- the simple but beautiful aesthetics of every day living. It's just damn difficult for me to keep my focus on these things, whether through actual experience, or through reading. If you're a great appreciator of these subtleties, it's hard to see how you wouldn't reach an almost joyous state from Updike's deft attention to detail. At times, even for me, he made time stop. Right there, in the moment, I was in the car when Rabbit drove off; I was at dinner with Rabbit and his friends... I saw what he saw. But it rarely lasted long -- I lost my focus too easily.

Updike is great with characters, too. Even if you don't like them (and his main characters are difficult to like) you understand them, and because they're human, you care for them. Rabbit is certainly not likable. In the beginning of the book, Rabbit drives off. He's headed to Florida. He didn't plan it; he just suddenly realized that he had enough with his life -- he didn't like his wife; he didn't want responsibility anymore, so he just impulsively decides to drive off, without telling anyone. Tell me, is that not tempting as hell? To just drive right past whatever obligations you may have and run away towards freedom. But you know you can't do that, if not for moral reasons, then because of the consequences that stem from doing such a thing. Rabbit doesn't get this. He goes through life without thinking of the consequences of his actions -- he lives in the moment, and feeds and acts out of his own quick, selfish motives. Or, as Updike puts it in one sentence, "He likes things to happen of themselves." But you know, this outlook, this philosophy -- these actions: they don't work when you grow up and have certain responsibilities. You can't get along in life by feeding your selfish desires all the time. It just doesn't work, and Rabbit still hasn't gotten that, and he -- and those in his family -- are affected by it, heavily.

To quickly continue with the characters: I personally didn't like Rabbit's wife Janice, either (and I think most would agree). I kind of liked Ruth, the "hooer" (Rabbit's word) that Rabbit moved in with -- she's your classic hard shell, secretly soft-hearted kind of person. brian (dude, am I really not supposed to capitalize the "B" in your name?) said that he liked her in his review. I, personally though, liked Pastor Eccles best: The guy tries so hard to make things work for others. He has this need to solve things -- to make things right. That resonated with me.

Even with seemingly shallow characters such as Rabbit, Updike manages to show that they do have a level of depth, and he brings out that depth expertly. Existential issues in general, haunt us all from time to time, and Updike articulates this personal inner struggle like the pro that he is. His writing manages to articulate and combine these with the animal instincts we all have -- that fight between our spiritual yearning and our instinctive animal elements. Sometimes, he even manages to pull if off in the very same paragraph as his descriptions of everyday beauty. Check this out:

"Eccles sits by the window of Kruppenbach's den on an oak-backed choir pew left over from some renovation. Seated on the bench he feels an adolescent compulsion to pray but instead peers across the valley at the green fragments of the golf course where he would like to be, with Harry. Eccles has found other partners either better or worse than he; only Harry is both, and only Harry gives the game a desperate gaiety, as if they are together engaged in an impossible question set by a benevolent but absurd lord, a quest whose humiliations sting them almost to tears but one that is renewed at each tee, in a fresh flood of green. And for Eccles there is an additional hope, a secrete determination to trounce Harry. He feels that the thing that makes Harry unsteady, that makes him unable to repeat his beautiful effortless swing every time, is the thing at the root of all the problems that he has created; and that by beating him decisively he, Eccles, will get on top of this weakness, this flaw, and hence solve the problems. In the meantime there is the pleasure of hearing Harry now and then cry, 'Hey, hey,' or 'I love it, love it!' Their rapport at moments attains for Eccles a pitch of pleasure, a harmless ecstasy, that makes the world with its vicious circumstantiality seem remote and spherical and green."

It's good for me to read Updike. Doing so addresses -- and therefore improves upon -- my weaknesses with concrete details. I plan on reading a Rabbit book a year. This way, as I grow and look back upon Rabbit's changes in behavior, I can look at mine as well. I hope to see us both growing. Who knows, I may even have a wife and kids by the time I get to Rabbit at Rest.


brian has written of Updike almost perfectly in the plethora of his Updike reviews. If you're considering reading Updike, or just interested in his style and why he has such a sound literary reputation, check out brian's reviews, here

43 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Rabbit, Run.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

02/22/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Jessica (new)

Jessica great review Ben.

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Woah. You gotta read his memoir because of your observation about his sense of and appreciation for detail.

It's so good.

message 3: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Ohhhh, I'm so sleepy. I just read that as:
"because of your OBSESSION about his sense..."

And I was like, "DAYUM"

message 4: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Thank you Jessica and Montambo! I'm definitely going to check out that memoir, Mo -- looks great.

message 5: by Jessica (new)

Jessica yes, Ben, I even shared it with a book-reviewing friend who's not yet joined gr...he's hard to please, as a teacher and person, and here's what he wrote:
"A very good review. Felt and human."

message 6: by Brad (new)

Brad What are you talking about, Ben? You're awful with them ;)

message 7: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Your inner teacher is showing, Brad. : )

Gary I guess i am a detail person.... I love updike. i love all the details that he goes into. for me, that's truly what makes him great.

Mad Dog Cool review. Ben articulates things about himself and the book that I haven't been able to articulate. Details are a problem of mine, too. I like it when reviewers inject themselves into the reviews as reviews are personal. I am not surprised to see Ben list Revolutionary Road as one of his faves, as Yates covers similar themes (as Rabbit, Run) but is more direct.

message 10: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Thanks, Dan! Much appreciated. Speaking of Yates, I see you gave The Easter Parade 5 stars. I'm going to have to bump that up on my "to read" list. Cheers.

message 11: by N. (last edited Jul 15, 2012 05:14AM) (new)

N. Thanks for your review Ben. I'm also the kind of reader you describe, more on the "abstract" side. I think it's no wonder that some of your favourite writers are Dostoevsky and Woolf, whom I'd say are both quite vague on physical details and very sharp on psychological ones.

back to top