Review: Rabbit, Run

Book Title: Rabbit, Run
Author: John Updike
Original Publication Date: 1960
Edition Read:
Fawcett Crest, 1983
Total Pages:
284
Genre:
Modern Classic
Reason Read:
Found On Folks’ Bookshelf – Seemed Like I Should Have Read Updike By Now
Rating:
3 out of 5 Stars

“Saying all this unsteadies her and makes her cry, but she pretends she’s not. She grips the back of the chair, the sides of her nose shining, and looks at him to say something. The way she is fighting for control of herself repels him; he doesn’t like people who manage things. He likes things to happen of themselves.”

I am familiar with John Updike through his book that was turned into film – The Witches of Eastwick. Or from his famous essay, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, from The New Yorker about Ted Williams’ farewell to baseball. This is my first time reading the man’s fictional writing directly. He certainly does like to present flawed people. Harry, aka Rabbit, is a conundrum. On the one hand, I despise him. On the other hand, I root for him to evolve. I WANT to grow to understand and have sympathy for where Rabbit is coming from, but it never happens. And maybe that is the point, I don’t know. I do know there is an entire series of books devoted to Rabbit. Since I can’t fathom why anyone would want to read on and on about a really selfish, egotistical, immature asshole, I would hope that the books that followed this one showed him improving as a human being. If nothing else, the last two installments received the Pulitzer Prize.

Rabbit is several years removed from his hey day as a superstar high school basketball athlete. He is married with a young son and another baby on the way. He sells kitchen gadgets to housewives by day and at night he goes home to an apartment that he finds quite dreary. His wife is a mess. She drinks too much. She is a slob. She zones out in front of the TV. She is no longer the engaging and attractive person that he once loved. He comes home from work one day and rather than go pick up his son from her parents’ home as requested, he decides to just get in the car and go. Away.

The story is a bit dated and reflects the attitudes, roles and slang of the 1950’s. It took all of my will power to keep reading after the first third of the book. This jerk is bored and disappointed with his life. His pregnant wife doesn’t do it for him anymore. And so he just abandons his family? Runs away? And I’m supposed to relate to this somehow? Oh sure, I get the whole “trapped” feeling. The fall from being the cat’s meow to an afterthought. The honeymoon being over. All familiar themes.

He runs away, gets lost, comes back and falls in love the next day with a prostitute. There is nothing redeeming about Rabbit for me. He shows signs of kindness, moments of love, a tender heart for his son. But they are all fleeting. Nothing sticks. He feels no remorse. No clue of how his actions damage people. So I then began to lose patience with the people who love Rabbit. Because it is so obvious to me this guy is a tool – they must be morons to keep caring for him. So screw ’em. Let them get walked all over – they asked for it.

I kept reading because Updike has a terrific way with words:

“As she adjusts her face to his height her eyes enlarge, displaying more of the vividly clear whites to which her moss-colored irises are buttoned.”

Or:

“…a solitary plum tree ball with bloom, a whiteness to the black limbs seem to gather from the blowing clouds and after a moment hurl away, so the reviving grass is bleached by an astonishing storm of confetti.”

This book garnered much attention when it was published for being so shocking. It was shocking because of all the blunt descriptions of sex, lust, desire, fantasies – raw scenes that these days are not very shocking at all. But the motivations behind them – the road into the depths of the “soul” that is Rabbit – are still interesting to examine.

In the end, Rabbit likely wishes he had never run to begin with. The more he runs, the more trouble he creates for himself and those in his path. The less control, power and security he has. But does this ever dawn on him? It doesn’t appear so. I’m not sure if Updike was condoning his character’s actions – the title could lead you to believe he does. But I think it is more likely that it is a lot more interesting to write about what would happen if you just said “f**k it.”

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About thebumbles

In addition to online Freelance Writing, Molly blogs about books on Quirky Girls Read and about everything else on The Bumbles Blog. Visit her often and let her know what you think! Unless you are a Yankee fan - then there might be a problem ;0)
This entry was posted in Classics, Fiction, Posts by Molly. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Review: Rabbit, Run

  1. I am totally with you. I read another of the novels in the Rabbit series – I believe it was Rabbit Redux – and was just disgusted not only with the characters, but also with the gratuitous sex scenes throughout. It was a bit too descriptive. I definitely will not be going back for more Rabbit.

  2. Amy says:

    I have the Rabbit series on my list of books to read but never have and now I don’t know that I will! They’ve always been highly recommended by older folks and my aunt tried to lend this one to me when I was in high school but my mother wouldn’t let me red it…the sex scenes etc. (There were many tv shows & movies I wasn’t allowed to watch or see, too!). Rabbit Run would probably have been a better book if I read it 10 or so years ago, but it sounds dated and I have problems with characters who lack any redeeming qualities!
    I’m very glad I read your review which is terrific! Thanks!

    • Bumbles says:

      Happy to have helped you formulate a better idea of what is in store for you. I must say, the writing was very enjoyable – but you are right – the book is quite dated now. For some, that can be problematic.

  3. Hmmm. I think I may have to give this one a miss. I really dislike reading about odious people, now matter how fine the writing itself is.

    • Bumbles says:

      He was an ass that you wanted to see get better – except he never did. I think it was quite brave of Updike to not redeem this guy. I think he enjoyed putting him in terrible situations of his own doing and watch him sweat.

  4. Staci says:

    I love the fact that you just write it like you saw it…this one doesn’t appeal to me whatsoever!

    • Bumbles says:

      Thanks Staci. Honesty is the best policy when trying to help someone know why you did or didn’t enjoy something. I get frustrated with reviews that give me an opinion without any reasoning. How would I be able to come to my own conclusion without that?

  5. Margot says:

    Excellent review Molly. I love the way you review a book you’re not crazy about. This is a book I’ve avoided reading and I doubt I’ll change my mind. It wasn’t the explicit sex that bothered me. I thought the story sounded too depressing and I didn’t want to spend my time being depressed. So many people praised the writing of the book but for me it’s more about the characters and the story.

    • Bumbles says:

      Thanks Margot. Being in a certain mood for a certain style of reading is key. Sometimes we never have the mood to match what a book’s content is suited for.

  6. izzybella says:

    You know, I’m not really a fan of Updike. Though he has, as you’ve already mentioned, a true gift for turning a phrase, it seems like this is much like the one book of his I read and didn’t care much for (In the Beauty of the Lilies, for those interested). He tends to depict truly unlikable people in difficult situations. I don’t get a lot of spare time for reading, so as much as I do think he’s a gifted writer-and for that matter, gifted at character building and world creating-I just can’t abide spending that much time on a character who needs to be punched in the face. Or least kicked in the shin. (so violent today, goodness!)

  7. cardiogirl says:

    Molly you crack me up!

    Reason Read: Found On Folks’ Bookshelf – Seemed Like I Should Have Read Updike By Now

    I recently read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” for the same reason. It was sort of a downer and it dragged along. I made it through about two-thirds and then scanned the last part to see how it ended.

    • Bumbles says:

      I will have a review of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn sometime in the near future. I did a re-read having originally read it as a child. I seem to have enjoyed my second visit with it more than you did your first! I think my nostalgia for it helped.

  8. I enjoyed this book. I actually liked Rabbit way more than his wife. I know that seems to be the unpopular response but I had a soft spot for him. I have not borrowed the others in the series as of yet but I did quite enjoy reading and getting to know the characters in this first one.

    • Bumbles says:

      Oh – I didn’t particularly care for his wife either. I just thought that he got annoyed one day, didn’t see that he could help the situation, ran away, made things worse and then just when it seemed he was being a bit of a grown-up, he ran away again at the worst possible moment. He was selfish. She was too. I think the character I enjoyed the most was “the other woman” – she at least had a mind of her own. Let me know what you think of the progression of Rabbit through the rest of the series!

  9. Pingback: Review: The Catcher In The Rye |

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