Sunday, July 26, 2009

On The Bedside Table: Rabbit, Run

"On the Bedside Table" was one of my ideas for a regular feature that I have not been great about following up on (as with so many of my clever ideas for regular content). Basically the idea is to write mini-reviews of a few of the things I've been reading of late. I am going to try to resurrect it now, but this time I'm just going with one book, John Updike's Rabbit, Run.

Rabbit Angstrom was John Updike's most enduring character. A former high school basketball star whose life after high school has been a disappointment, Angstrom represents in many ways the flawed everyman - I even invoked Angstrom in an essay I just finished about the difficulties athletes have with moving on from their sporting glories. Updike wrote four books about Rabbit, plus a short story that provides something of a coda, from what I unederstand. Two of the books won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

I picked up a Penguin Paperbacks copy of Rabbit, Run when I was at Keele in May. I was in an Updike mood, having read a number of excerpts from his essays after his death and wanting to shore up one of the many holes in my reading of the classics. I've read my share of Updike's essays and fiction that has appeared in The New Yorker, but am woefully short on his novels. I assumed the character of Rabbit might speak to me, what with the whole ex-jock thing and all.

The plot is rather simple: Rabbit is unhappy with his life. He flees his wife one night, driving aimlessly with vague dreams of escape, but then finally returning, though to the clutches of another woman rather than his wife. But his wife is pregnant, so he goes back to her, realizes he still sort of loathes her, leaves again, and a tragedy so awful and ugly and avoidable takes place that it propels the reader to the conclusion and, though it is likely even Updike did not know that the Rabbit Angstrom novels would become a series, to the books to follow.

Rabbit, Run is a good book, which is a pretty banal summation, but I choose it intentionally. For while it is good, it was not as sterling as I expected, and with Updike, goodness is sort of assumed. I will read the next installment in the series in hopes that the characters become more likable (in this first book if there is a likable character I do not recall their role), that Updike gives room for Rabbit, despite all of his foibles, to breathe a bit more. There is no questioning Updike as a stylist, though I could have done with less of the gimmicky inner monologues. But something by the end had me grabbed -- perhaps thematically more than plotwise or in terms of character development -- so that I want to see how this Rabbit Angstrom fellow fucks it all up the next time.


Jim said...

I got to meet Updike, which was nice. Haven't read much of his stuff, a few essays.

dcat said...

Jim --
The book is worth a shot, and I am looking forward to seeing the development of that world even if the first book did not quite reach expectations.