Thursday, April 10, 2014

John Updike Still Makes Rabbit Run

Rabbit, Run
Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom feels trapped in what he considers a second-rate life. His job, selling a kitchen gadget at a display table inside alternating local grocery stores, isn't going anywhere. His wife, who is pregnant with their second child, is what he describes as a mutt. His apartment is unkept, messed by a 2-year-old son whom he loves but is never picked up by a wife who is most often drunk.

It wasn't always this way for Rabbit, which is what makes his current situation so difficult to endure. He used to have a first-rate life as a star basketball player in high school. He set records.

The full weight of it hits him especially hard one day after coming home. The house is a wreck. His wife is drunk. His son has been shuffled off to grandparents. The car was inexplicably left behind. And the only person who seems to make sense is on the flickering picture of his failing television set.

"Know thyself, a wise old Greek once said. Know thyself. Now what does this mean, boys and girls?  It means, be what you are. Don't try to be Sally or Johnny or Fred next door; be yourself." — Mouseketeer Jimmy, Mickey Mouse Club

Who is Rabbit? He didn't really know anymore, but it certainly doesn't have much to do with the unbearable life he had been trapped into living. He decides to escape it and leave it all behind.

Initially, after telling his wife he wanted to get the car and pick up their son, Rabbit heads south. His impulsive idea is to find himself on a Florida beach. He gets lost instead, making it only as far as West Virginia. So he decides to turn back, but doesn't intend to go home.

PennsylvaniaHe visits the one person in Mt. Judge, Pennsylvania, who believes in him. Marty Tothero is his old basketball coach and the one person Rabbit expects will see him for who he is or maybe who he was.

Rabbit also expects Tothero to be somewhat sympathetic to estranged relationships. Although he stays with his wife, Tothero is notoriously unfaithful. He is sympathetic and dotes on him like a son, but is unsure how to help. He alludes to telling Rabbit to go home but takes him out on the town.

The two of them travel into the city and meet up with two girls. One of them is Ruth Leonard, a part-time prostitute of sorts who is overweight and aging, who hits it off with Rabbit. Rabbit hits it off with her too. And after making a point-by-point comparison between her and his wife, he decides to return the car to his wife and move in with Ruth.

The close proximity of his new residence, impending birth of his daughter, and the pursuit of the local Episcopal priest Jack Eccles frequently leads many to assume that the story is about the faith, love, or marriage. While those themes exist, the story is really about the emptiness people feel inside themselves and the devices they choose to fill it.

As a result, it often paints Rabbit as an anti-hero and someone to easily hate. But John Updike is a better writer than to make it so obvious. All of the characters, much like living and breathing human beings, feel an emptiness at their cores. Rabbit seems to be the only one who seems incapable of filling it. And for that reason, more than any other, most people want to punish him just like most of the characters in the book. Updike might as well have called this classic We All Have Holes.

A couple graphs about John Updike. 

John Updike
Probably best known for Rabbit, Run and the series that followed, Updike's character study and the highly distinctive prose he chose to tell it remains an extraordinary mark on American literature. Once exposed to this wry and intelligent voice, it is as difficult to forget as an echo.

Updike himself was inspired to write by his mother, who struggled to become a published writer. After graduation from high school as co-valedictorian and class president, he was fortunate enough to attend Harvard.

He graduated in 1954 and enrolled in the University of Oxford with a new ambition to become a cartoonist. When he returned to the states, he contributed to the New Yorker instead.

Rabbit, Run by John Updike Shakes A 9.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The novel is nearly perfect in every imaginable way as Updike manages to make an antagonistic protagonist accessible enough that readers not only feel sympathetic for the lout but also miserable for it. What is remarkable and significant about these emotions that he so adeptly conjures out of his readers it that he largely presents them as a mirror that only masquerades as someone so distant.

Rabbit, Run by John Updike is available on Amazon. The novel can also be ordered for iBooks or as an audiobook from iTunes. The latter is narrated by Arthur Morey who brilliantly fits Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom like the shirt he didn't want to wear. Rabbit, Run can also be ordered from Barnes & Noble.
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