Updike is often mentioned as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century and the Rabbit books are described as masterpieces of American literature. Am I missing something? As far as I could tell, it was a soap-opera plot mixed in with some tasteless sex scenes, an excessive amount of detail and descriptive language that is so excessively ornate it frequently becomes tawdry and nonsensical. That seems to impress the critics, but it doesn't impress me.
This book is also an opportunity for Updike to step up his long-running competition with Philip Roth to use the word 'cunt' as many times as possible in a serious work of literature. I would estimate that it is used about sixty times in this novel which is impressive in a juvenile way.
Aside from that, I really don't know what much else there is to this novel. It was just a load of sex scenes held together with some bickering conversations. I mean, Updike really is tasteless when he gets going: by the time the phrase 'salt swamp' was used in one of these scenes, I was starting to feel slightly sick and came pretty close to throwing the book across the room in irritation and boredom. I don't know what it is about Updike's style that irritates me so much: it's just so grotesquely pretentious, so smug and self-conscious, like Martin Amis but even worse. Another thing that is annoying is that Updike keeps throwing in these stupid 'revelations' every time Rabbit finishes sleeping with someone. It really is remarkably pretentious. For example:
''How sad, how strange. We make companions out of air and hurt them, so they will defy us, completing creation'.
What does that even mean? It's supposed to be a serious revelation and yet it is clearly meaningless. He does this every page. He even does at the end of every review he does. It's really annoying. How about another one?
''We grope on, under bullies and accountants''.
What? What are you talking about? This doesn't impress people. Well, it does unfortunately, but that's their problem.
A critic on the jacket describes this novel as a ''vindication'' of ''essentially realist'' fiction. On the contrary, I would choose this book as a perfect representation of why it is that ''essentially realist'' fiction is self-destructive when it is taken as far as Updike takes it. As the plots become more and more trivial, the language becomes cheaper and ever more tawdry, the sex scenes and depictions of emotion ever more tasteless, the characters ever more repugnant and the core beneath Updike's sweet sugar coating becomes ever more meaningless. I'll still give it 3 stars because I think to be fair the odd section or paragraph is very well-written and Updike does succeed in pulling the novel together as a whole, but it really didn't strike me as a ''modern classic'' and I have yet to find out why it is that Updike is held in such high regard as a writer.