Stephen's Reviews > Rabbit at Rest

Rabbit at Rest by John Updike
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's review
Aug 11, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: united-states, 20th-century
Read from August 11 to 15, 2011

Just as the first hundred pages of RABBIT, RUN were written in a breathless pace to match their manic tone, the last hundred pages of RABBIT AT REST, which mirror the beginning moments of the series, linger on in a depressingly meaningless manner. Highway billboards, trite pop tunes from past decades, and trivial news headlines about baseball players blur with the names and minutiae of a history book, the snapshot memories of Harry's somewhat uneventful life, and the chronic ups and downs of his erratic family life. Insipid, self-destructive meal follows unhealthy meal, and the sitcoms in getaway Florida are the same idiotic mindlessness that shows on the televisions in Pennsylvania. Rabbit tries, in the last moments of his life, to find a reason for all that living, and it's not so easy to say that he does. As he staggers through bland smalltalk with a Holocaust survivor who's been reduced to a decrepit buffet patron and tries to pack a punch in awkward conversations with his distant grandchildren, one realizes that if life does have some driving purpose, Rabbit Angstrom has never tapped into it. Even the most cherished moment of his last year on earth, a spontaneous and rather scandalous sexual encounter, is reduced to psychological rationalization and neurotic impulses by his frustratingly forgiving family, who whittle even his sex drive down to a few taboo missteps.

RABBIT AT REST is a bleakly beautiful book, with razor-sharp prose that begs to be reread and read out loud. One might expect a novel about an intimately familiar protagonist to contain some epiphanies, some poetic truths, or at least some tender moments, yet throughout the series Updike never surrendered to cliches or melodrama and nor does he here. RABBIT AT REST is a slice of reality, and sometimes reality ends in unresolved regrets and pitiful, self-defeating attempts at impossible reconciliations.

Updike is also an American historian, an ethnographer of the middle American malaise, and in RABBIT AT REST, just as with previous decades in the previous books, he captures life in the late eighties as though from some well-informed future vantage point. Debt, computers, racism, the wasteland of American industry--Updike envisions and eviscerates all of society's ills with an acuteness that leaves me wishing I could pick up something like RABBIT IN RECESSION, a 2010 novel that could maybe help us all figure out where our troublesome future might lie.

RABBIT AT REST is a splendid novel, maybe not quite as powerful and moving as RABBIT, RUN, but then again--to paraphrase Harry--when you get older it gets harder to muster the same enthusiasm you once held for everything.
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Morgan Good review!

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