by John Updike
1960 / 336 pages
read by Arthur Morey 12h 5m
Rating: 5 / classic 20th century angst
I got it read – been tempting me for years solely because it’s a series of books although I couldn’t stand the one Updike I’d managed to struggle through – (The Beauty of the Lilies – 1996).
Anyway – a reading group chose it and I am an obliging member and found it on Audible. Okay – I’m listening with an ear toward Updike’s literary qualities, his style, the metaphors and the other tropes which I suppose is what’s important. He’s good that way but you do lose the plot – this is apparently a book that needs a couple readings – one for the descriptions, one for the plot and one for the themes (in whatever order you want).
Poor Harry Angstrom, aka Rabbit, is a like a little kid inside – and he’s a runner. First he stars in high school at running back and forth across a basketball court and then, at age 28, he runs back and forth between the responsibility of his home life with a drunk, pregnant wife and a mundane job, and the home of a very loose woman he’s become sexually attached to.
The boy needs to grow up – (But that may be what Updike is saying to Jack Kerouac re On the Road –
Yup – Updike “wrote what he knew”: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/04/28/imitation-of-life
Updike is known for his beautiful language and apt metaphors so I tried to get into that and right-o those are damn fine metaphors. Still – there were just too many words – reader can get lost in there – as lost as Angstrom.
I suppose the basic theme is that running away from a wife and child is stupid, immature and it hurts a lot of people – especially when it’s repeated. In order to advance this theme Updike elaborates on the causes of Angstrom’s actions – how he feels trapped in a “fake” marriage and a really mundane job and as though the best moments of his life are over – when he was a basketball star.
Janice Angstrom is pretty bad as a wife, constantly drunk and smoking. Updike shows that Angstrom has some real problems. But he certainly also shows that running to the arms of another woman, even a whore, provides no answers – it only makes things worse. The sex scenes are long, graphic and intense.
The consequences of Angstrom’s leaving are mainly about his guilt and dread and Updike gives Angstrom plenty of stuff to feel guilty about – although he doesn’t smoke or drink. heh – Religion enters into Angstrom’s mind a lot – the Episcopal minister tries to help the Angstroms reunite.
It’s hard to split my 21st century ideas of the book from those prevalent when it was published. Harry Angstrom has a problem with women. He has three women on his mind for a good chunk of the book. He treats them very badly – even for 1960, I think, and for a reader in 2015 Harry comes off as a male chauvinist pig.
The book is sexist by the standards of today but I have a feeling that Angstrom’s attitudes mirrored those of many people in 1960 – a few of them still think like that. I don’t recall Rabbit Run as being criticized for misogyny in the past – there’s some question now but the book was written over 50 years ago. There was/is a reason for the women’s movement – women had it pretty rough (and we didn’t even know it).
Still, even with his immature and sexist attitudes Angstrom comes across as being vulnerable and sympathetic for some reason – he’s supposed to be “everyman,” I guess. The minister sees something valuable in him. The main women both love him. And there’s enough humor to keep the story from being totally tragic. He’s very confused and feels totally trapped.
The women’s movement is not just about women – it also says something about the men and their entrapment – bound for life to a yukkie job in order to be sole support of a woman who sleeps with him and any children they might have.
I’m glad I read it – it’s not as bad as I expected – but I’ll not read the other Rabbit books – Updike uses too many words. The ideas are kind of dated – but I suppose it does deserve to be a classic.