Katherine's Reviews > Rabbit Redux

Rabbit Redux by John Updike
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Jul 14, 09


As Rabbit Redux begins in 1968, we learn that our man-child anti-hero has grown up into... one of those crew-cut wing-tipped lawn-mowing wife-slapping N-bomb-dropping don't-sass-me-punk-I-did-my-time-in-that-Korean-thing weasels that populate every single white suburban boy's 1960s coming of age story ever written, the ones who serve as a foul-mouthed foil for the young hero's eventual enlightenment.

In my review of Rabbit Run I touched on the divide between the "clean" Brewer and the "dirty" Brewer, and on the fact that Rabbit could take an extended holiday in Dirty Brewer and return to Clean Brewer seemingly untouched by the experience. We saw suggestions that the split between the two cities was a racial one as well: the Chinese food that has featured so far in all of Rabbit's experiences with prostitutes, the "colored" waitress at Ruth's favorite juke joint, and so on. As long as Dirty Brewer stayed a bus ride away from Clean Brewer, everything was fine for guys like Rabbit. Now, Dirty Brewer hasn't just invaded the city proper, it's often indivisible from the last refuges of Clean Brewer.

This time, Rabbit's wife Janice walks away from the marriage in favor of one of her father's salesmen, a small-time Aristotle Onassis figure known for getting into loud liberal arguments. In the lonely aftermath, he takes in a parole-jumping drug dealer and self-styled Black Jesus, Skeeter, and a rich-girl hippie runaway, Jill.

And here's where the book falls on its face. If Skeeter and Jill were anything other than cartoons, some grouchy suburban dad's slapped-together idea of what the civil rights movement is and what the hippie counterculture lifestyle is, then maybe...

There's a bleakly funny moment about two-thirds of the way into the novel, in which Rabbit is confronted by his neighbors over the fact that some neighborhood kids have glimpsed a black man and a white woman having sex in his living room. Repulsed by the extremity of their racism, he defends his right to do anything he wants with his own damn private property - the same argument often used and especially in the 60s and 70s to prevent women, Jews and Catholics, and people of color from entering spaces traditionally held by white Protestant men. If the entire book had carried this same kind of conscious irony, Rabbit Redux could have been much more intelligent than it is.

But despite everything, I read the damn thing at a clip. There are gems here - Janice searching frantically for emergency nitroglycerin to dose her lover comes to mind - and it was mind-expanding to read something that didn't portray the sixties as the glorious homeland revolution. (I grew up in a household with strong hippie roots.) Everything Rabbit eats or drinks tastes vaguely of chemicals. He is laid off when the job he has had for 12 years becomes functionally obsolete. They don't play outside or talk to their neighbors anymore, unless it's in hostile boundary-defending confrontations. They have less money, more worries, fewer opportunities.

Rabbit is Rich is up next. This series is like Harry Potter for bitter people.
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

If Skeeter and Jill were anything other than cartoons, some grouchy suburban dad's slapped-together idea of what the civil rights movement is and what the hippie counterculture lifestyle is, then maybe...

Exactly.


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