Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

As a shark nudges silent creases of water ahead of it, the green fender makes ripples of air that break against the back of Rabbit's knees. The faster he walks the harder these ripples break. Behind his ear a childishly twanging voice pipes, "I beg your pardon. Are you Harry Angstrom?"
With a falling sensation of telling a lie Rabbit turns and half-whispers, "Yes."
I don't even know where to begin. Chris swore this book was amazing, and it delivered. It was a little eerie, too, that I picked this up just one day before John Updike died. Now I can say that I truly appreciate the greatness that we've lost.

Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom is 26, married with one child and another on the way, and living in the suburbs of a small city in Pennsylvania. Rabbit was a regional basketball star in high school, something that he clings to as validation of his self now that he sells vegetable peelers to housewives. He also has one of the best names ever, and earned himself a place on my list ("Nathan's Favorite Names of Northeastern American Literature 2009"). Harry's frustration with his life, small in comparison to his brief fame, is omnipresent throughout the book, and stifling at times. His tendency to flee an uncomfortable, or less than ideal, situation results in darker consequences than I'd expected. This is a person totally absorbed in pursuing his desires completely, however much they change moment by moment. His train of thought flits from love to hate to remembering wondering as a child if pine trees would cushion your fall from a great height. Rabbit seems incapable of empathy, which must be nice, to some degree, to feel guiltless in following your every whim to the letter. But for being so flighty, Rabbit has some moments of surprising clarity.
"I'll tell you," he says. "When I ran from Janice I made an interesting discovery. If you have the guts to be yourself, other people'll pay your price."
So sad and true, that sometimes to really be true to your self, you'll have to break someone else's heart. Fortunately for the sake of the story, Rabbit doesn't compromise. His heart leads him from his wife and back again several times, never showing much remorse, and justifying his actions with the thinnest excuses (such as "if she had said the right thing right before I left I definitely would have stayed").

What's most amazing is Updike's incredible insight into the human mind. His invented observance of every character's tics and motivations and inner thoughts are so believable as to be chilling, and definitely gripping. Following Rabbit's own inner-workings somehow manages to make such a despicable, thoughtless person seem sympathetic, like he doesn't know any better. And his prose is fuller and richer than I felt after downing a dozen donuts on Saturday. I was nervous writing this review, because there's no hope of me doing Updike and his writing any justice. Without a doubt, read this book.

Has anyone read Rabbit Redux or Rabbit is Rich? I want more Updike.


Nihil Novum said...

I'm reading this now. Only about 20 pages in so far though.

Christopher said...

I love this book like I love you. I'll bring my copy of Redux for you this week when I'm home.

Amanda said...

I'm supposed to read an Updike book this year and I've never read any - would you recommend this one as my first? I randomly chose The Witches of Eastwick but it doesn't matter which one I end up reading.

Nathan said...

This is the only Updike I've read, but I loved it greatly, so I'd say read it first. But I'm probably not the best to ask.

Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

This is going straight to my book list. Great review.

Christopher said...

Amanda: Definitely Rabbit, Run.

Amanda said...

Thanks! I'll switch my selection.

Christopher said...

I'd be interested in hearing a woman's perspective on it. Updike has been called quite the misogynist.