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.”
“…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.”