Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rabbit Remembered by John Updike

This novella finds Rabbit's family in the early 2000's, ten years or so after Rabbit's death. Rabbit's wife Janice is now married to Rabbit's longtime friend/archrival Ronnie Harrison, with whose late wife Rabbit had an extended affair dating back to Rabbit is Rich. Rabbit's son Nelson, now approaching forty, is still living at home, separated from his wife Pru (also with whom Rabbit had sex--the man got around, basically). But the main plot thrust here is the appearance of Annabelle, Rabbit's illegitimate daughter by Ruth, the girl he shacked up with in the first book, Rabbit, Run. When the book opens, Ruth has died and on her deathbed told Annabelle the truth about her father, recommending--quite in the contrary to the way she acted when Rabbit visited her in the previous two books--that Annabelle look up the family she never knew so that she might be alone in the world.

This book really belongs to Rabbit's son Nelson, who welcomes Annabelle into the family with open arms despite resistance by Janice, Ronnie, and basically everyone else in the book. I'm not sure the novella was necessary, but it's nice to see that ten years on Nelson has cleaned up his drug habit and become a good person instead of the little shit he was in Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest; in his eagerness to make everything right he reflects his father's finest qualities and creates not only a welcome post-mortem assessment of his father's life but a sense of reprieve for Nelson, who throughout the first four books had not yet come into his own.

One of the strangest things about this one is that I am old enough to actually remember events and pop culture references that appear in this book--for example, the denouement of the story takes place as Nelson, Pru, Annabelle, and another character I haven't mentioned named Billy go to see American Beauty. Weird! But this is one of the reasons I am grateful for this epilogue; while Updike labors dutifully to encapsulate the America that exists in each decade, until now I have been unable to connect to the books by experience.

Carlton asked for my final thoughts on the whole series, and I told him I'd wait until I'd read this novella, so here they are, though not quite to the extent of my final thoughts on Harry Potter: I love these books. Much of it has to do with aspects I cannot describe to you, but I think that the crux of it is this: I have never read a book in which the life of one man is described in such intricate detail as the Rabbit series; no character is as real to me in the entire corpus of world literature. Updike gives us not only the great crisis moments of Rabbit's life, though they are there, but the mundane details, the songs on the radio, the changing of the movie marquee like the changing of the seasons, the small things that make up a human life. When beautiful moments appear--and in each book I can think of two or three passages which simply awe me every time I read them--it as if they are a validation of the infrequent but real moments of beauty that occur in my own life. The Rabbit novels are proof positive that beauty and insight are the realm of the common man as much as the romantic hero. The worst part of Rabbit Remembered is that it lacks a single moment as vivid and arresting as Rabbit's dream about death.

I wouldn't recommend reading the whole series to everyone; it's simply too detailed and, well, dull for everyone to appreciate. But I think that everyone here ought to read Rabbit, Run.


Carlton said...

Thanks for fulfilling my request.
Can you send me $20 please?

Christopher said...

Check's in the mail.

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