Greg's Reviews > Rabbit Redux

Rabbit Redux by John Updike
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Jan 18, 09

bookshelves: fiction
Read in May, 2003

I wrote this review a few years ago for a different site. I called it Rabbit's A Reactionary Racist. It's been edited a little bit from it's original context.

What is the novel about? Well it’s about Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom: a man in his early thirties, with a wife, a son and a job on the verge of being made obsolete by technology. In the first novel, Rabbit ran away from his wife and young child. The novel dealt with the way he is pulled between his freedom and responsibility. In Rabbit’s second appearance on the literary scene he is at the other end of the estranged spouse paradigm. Rabbit’s wife leaves him to live with her smooth talking car salesman boyfriend. After being cuckold by his wife Rabbit feels sorry for himself, blames his troubles on others, shacks up with an 18 year old hippie, lets an African American criminal on the run move into his house, works through 400 years of racial injustice through his discussions with the hippie and the criminal, has his house burned down by racist neighbors and ultimately gets back together with his wife. This all sounds sort of familiar if you’ve read the first novel. Many of the incidents have just been changed slightly and the novels overly peppered with events from 1969 to make sure the reader never forgets that the action takes place as man first walked on the moon, Laugh-In and the Mod Squad played on the telly and movie-goers were packing theatres to see Kubrick’s cerebral 2001: A Space Odyssey. The actions similar to the first tale of Rabbit but the times are a changing. Poor Rabbit though isn’t changing with the times though. Maybe if Updike could have written Rabbit as adapting better to the turmoil of the 60’s this novel would have been more enjoyable (or at least less offensive).

I might be wrong but I don’t think the word cunt was generally used to describe women in 1969. . I don’t think the word experienced much of a mainstream vogue in America, but if I took Updike’s picture of the cultural terrain of America at this time as an example then I’d believe that good Americans, Conservative Americans at the time believed that women could be reduced to this term. Not just reduced but defined as just being walking cunt’s with interchangeable faults attributed to them. Updike uses this term more often that Irvine Welsch does. The word is used constantly to an annoying degree. Added to the excessive use of this word as catch all for all women (except for poor Rabbit’s mom) is a good healthy dose of racism. Rabbit believes it’s not worth his son caring too much about a girl he likes being dead because there are a few billion more cunt’s in the world. Rabbit doesn’t like blacks on the bus with him because they smell. Rabbit doesn’t like hippies because they don’t love the country. Rabbit likes the idea of bombing Vietnam into the pre-historic age. Rabbit’s a good American trying to raise his son but only thinks twice before joining his counter-culture housemates in smoking dope in front of his kid. Rabbit’s a total hypocrite.

One might try to argue that through his talks with the on the lam criminal, Skeeter, that Updike shows the way that even the close minded archetype of middle America can learn to empathize with Civil Rights. One might if they were ignoring the way that Updike treats all of his minority characters. There are three African American characters. One if a drunk co-worker / part time pimp, the second is a pot smoking alcohol swilling lounge singer / prostitute, and the third is Skeeter a small time pot dealer / irrational revolutionary who thinks his the living incarnation of Jesus Christ. The first two characters are presented for color and for Rabbit to have masturbatory fantasies about. The third argues the case for Black Power in the most schizophrenic, irrational and flat out moronic manner possible who discredits all of Civil Rights leaders in favor of some acid induced logic. Rabbit starts to agree with him at times, which makes no sense except to prove that Rabbit’s a moron. I don’t know what Updike was trying to do with this. Especially because he wastes almost half of the book involved in these discussions between Rabbit and Skeeter.

This novel left me feeling kind of offended. Aside being offended I felt nothing. The prose is nice and clean but I have hundreds of books that are well written. I know that I’m going to read the last two novels with clenched teeth because I am unable to not finish a book or a series no matter how much I hate it. I don’t recommend entering into Rabbit’s world, or if you do read the first novel and then use your imagination about what he would be doing ten years down the road.
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks, Greg. I needed that.


Greg You're welcome.


message 3: by brian (last edited Jan 19, 2009 11:11PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

brian   in trying to comment on and critique america in the late 60s, updike chose archie bunker as his protagonist rather than meathead. rabbit, like archie, is clearly a sexist and racist. we get this. but he's human. and real. and in reading about rabbit we get a better sense of what and who america was at the time, as well as an understanding of the cultural forces which create men like him. oh. and to your complaint: rabbit's a total hypocrite. uh, yeah. that's the point.

it's good that you were offended. you should be. updike depicts an offensive time.

the three black characters. offended that they're portrayed so poorly? yeah, i suppose updike should've included a model black citizen just to remind us that all black people aren't pimps or whores or drug dealers. heh. but let's not forget something: skeeter is a black man in small town 60s america who went to vietnam to fight a war for a country that, upon his return, can only see him as a shiftless nigger. this is what makes Rabbit start to agree with him. and this helps explain skeeter's messianic lunacy. also, and despite skeeter's lunacy, i totally disagree that skeeter's arguments are 'irrational and flat out moronic'. shit, most of skeeter's monologues are taken directly from the writings of frederick douglass! i found skeeter to be incredibly intelligent intuitive and sharp, but he took it too far... his philosophy is not applicable to real life. further evidence of updike's genius: while critiquing the old guard, he was also able to caution against the tendency for the new generation to overreach.

and the other black characters are not 'presented for color or for Rabbit to have masturbatory fantasies about'. not at all. they are shown as characters who are forced to live between the cracks of mainstream society because they are black, because they are marginalized, because they are constantly harassed by the local police, etc (remember how shit scared they are to have that white girl in the bar with them?) - and don't you think it's kind of the point that all Rabbit can do - the 'upstanding' middle-class white guy - is jack off to the them? i found this to be an incredibly disturbing and poignant point.

I don’t know what Updike was trying to do with this.
clearly.



Greg Brian, that is a pretty amazing defense of Updike. I feel a bit ashamed and like I didn't give him nearly enough credit. Thank you for calling me out.


brian   ah! i was really counting on you or Tambo jumping down my throat on this one. and then you respond... all... nice and reasonable? damn you!
heh heh.


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

I can't hate anyone, today. Let's love Updike together right now. He REALLY loves America, after all.

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message 7: by Malbadeen (new)

Malbadeen a show of patriotism by way of an orgy with John Updike? I like the way you think.

while we're at it let's invite:
-Johnathan Safran Foer
-Jeffery Eugenides
-Junot Diaz
-Tobias Wolff



Greg Sorry to disappoint you with my politeness Brian. It's been too long ago that I read the book to really go head to head with someone over Rabbit Redux. I have been thinking of your points today while at work, and I can understand the point that Updike was making, I'm just curious though where the wink or nudge was to let the reader know what he was doing. Maybe it wasn't there, and that's ok because I was trying to figure out where the wink or nudge would be with certain punk bands I used to listen to, and I can't come up with how someone not already familiar with the band would realize the intentions.

I know when I read this book I wanted to like it. I wanted to not be part of the generational stereotype that hates John Updike and I had enjoyed the Rabbit Run, and sort of, kind of liked his Bech novels, and loved Gertrude and Claudius, but something just didn't sit right with me with this one.

For better or worse I haven't given Updike another chance since. Maybe I will though just so I can write a review expressing my theory that Updike is really only a masterful plagiarist, then we can duke it out over that sweeping theory of mine.


Greg You should invite Philip Roth too, you've got get both of the aging writers who have a thing for oral sex involved in the orgy.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

Roth likes nipples, too.


message 11: by Greg (new) - rated it 2 stars

Greg That's true, especially if they are attached to a shiska.


message 12: by Malbadeen (new)

Malbadeen and here I was worried my comment was too distasteful for this crowd...


message 13: by Greg (new) - rated it 2 stars

Greg I wouldn't worry about anything being too distasteful, I'm a little concerned about the last two threads on book reviews I've been involved in making their way around to orgy's though.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

If it happens a third time, it's definitely a sign.


message 15: by Sheri (new)

Sheri Currently reading this, and I think you're right on with your review, however you might want to flag your review as containing spoilers...arrrrgh


Maureen Spoiler alert! Please flag.


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