Rebecca's Reviews > Rabbit, Run

Rabbit, Run by John Updike
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's review
May 02, 2008

did not like it

** spoiler alert ** I'm debating between one and two stars here. The extra star would be for the prose style, which I found beautiful and imaginative. Otherwise, I had a hard time with this novel. Rabbit's irresponsibility has devastating consequences, yet not only does he escape these consequences but he doesn't even seem to have learned or grown from them. He's running at the beginning, he's running at the end, but he doesn't actually get anywhere. I don't really think the novel earns the tragedies that Rabbit's actions set in motion. And the experience of living in his world is pretty grim, I found. There's no humor in his recklessness (I wanted to write fecklessness, but I don't think it's light enough to be feckless)-- I couldn't help thinking of what a British author would do with this novel and how much irony, even of a dark variety, we'd find there. It irritated me how various characters seemed to endow Rabbit with some kind of supernatural aura-- "he's special" and all that nonsense. Are we meant to think that they are deluded and that therefore the joke's on them? Or are we meant to think that they indeed see something real, something that would make Rabbit matter to us in a deeper way? I didn't see it myself, which is why the consequences of his carelessness are so devastating.

Ok, I get it that all of my critique above is probably "Missing The Point." Updike's got to be doing something with this aimlessness, this childishness, this lack-of-growth, and I suppose that's why he needed to write three more books before he was done. So, friends who have read the others, should I bother?
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message 1: by Jesse (new)

Jesse I am not sure if I think it's worthwhile. There was a time I would have said of course, but maybe Updike's time has passed--his terrorism novel sounded abominable. I think two things: if you're going to read one male chauvinist pig from this period, I much prefer Philip Roth, whose work hit a trough in the mid-70s but then rebounded and has remained, to my eyes at least, far more vitally engaged with America as it is; if you're going to read the Rabbit books, you need to read them in order, since all of his vanities, misdeeds, mistreatments of poor, suffering Janice (which, Updike being who he is, he essentially gives him a pass on), and career changes need to be followed from book to book. I think Redux gives you a good sense of late-60s burnout (though I think the first 30 pages of Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers are definitive on this for me); Rabbit is Rich is excellent on late-70s malaise (and contains an, um, memorable description of a sexual practice that both gays and straights were trying out in the burbs); and in Rabbit at Rest he dies, finally and circle-closingly, while playing pickup basketball. I suppose it's worth it if you want a painterly sex-obsessed white straight guy's take on the period. I kinda also prefer Gore Vidal's books from this time. As a coda to this non-answer, here's Russell Baker:

Finish "Rabbit." Updike has really pulled it off, I think, though I'm agreeably uncertain about what "it" is. Is Rabbit a human representation of America from Eisenhower to Bush? The episode in which he leads the July 4th parade as Uncle Sam seems to be saying so, but only second-rate professors think good writers are interested in composing coded messages.

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