Book Review: Rabbit, Run by John Updike

I’m going to do half a book review on half a book.  I first read
Rabbit, Run in May 1964, after I finished The Same Door (stories)
in April 1964.  I see I have “clever” written as a note about the
book.  Updike was a new writer then.  Over the years, I
subsequently read eight other books by him, plus a few read
partway through and then thrown across the room.  “You
wish!” I would say under my breath at the torrid scenes.

In Rabbit, Harry Angstrom (stream of anguish explains Updike
when asked about the name) is a young man with a glorified
past as a high school basketball star.  The book opens with him
in a pick-up game with some young kids.  That’s the first net–
the net around the rim of the basketball hoop.

Rabbit is unhappy—he’s now married, with a child, and I guess
he’s bored–wants out.  I remember being at a basketball game
years ago–sitting with other parents, and one husband, who
traveled a lot, was home for once and had come to the game.
Partway through he turned to his wife and said, “I’m bored.”

“We’re all bored, Greg.  Get over it.”  answered his wife with
with three kids in tow.

The trouble with Rabbit is that no one has set him straight.
He’s anxious to get the heck out of the marriage, and one night
he takes the car to drive south, south to sandy beaches, away
from it all.

The road map he has is confusing—difficult to read the spidery
lines of the routes of Pennsylvania and Maryland.   The map is
like a net of strings, roads, routes.  Another net.  But another one
he can’t escape and he returns to town.

Rabbit has lost interest in his marriage, but not in women.  We
read too much about his interest in women.  It’s a cold and
calculating interest—not loving, not endearing, but like gum
on your shoe, hard to get away from.  Let’s face it, he doesn’t
like women.

After a while, say half way through the book, you think—eh.
I don’t like Rabbit.  Does that mean I don’t like Updike?  One
must love Updike in America.  Do we blame the author for
the attitude of the character in his book?  Well who else do
we blame—the reader?

In 1950, William Faulkner gave a well-regarded acceptance
speech for his Nobel Prize for literature.  ” . . .the poet’s, the
writer’s, duty  . . .is to help man endure by lifting his heart . . .”

It’s worth the search to read the whole piece, but my point is
that Updike is not lifting my heart.  I read the book in the
sixties when supposedly marriages were in turmoil, and
I don’t need to read it again.  He was making a point for that
period of time in America.  I get it.  Good-by.

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses to Book Review: Rabbit, Run by John Updike

  1. FictionFan says:

    This is the only Updike book I’ve read, and was pretty underwhelmed by it. Like you, I didn’t like the character, nor did I think the writing was exceptional, if I remember rightly. I’ve not been tempted to try another…though you did suggest this one as part of the Great American Novel Quest, so I might have to try it again…sometime.

    • booksandbuttons says:

      Well, you have to know the Rabbit series–it’s in the American genes. But for more
      interesting, rewarding reading from Updike I like early short story collections: The
      Same Door or Pigeon Feathers. From those starting gates he took off to stardom. The
      New Yorker supported him for many years publishing his stories.

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