I’m going to be utterly uncharacteristic and not write a glowing review of a book.
I found Rabbit, Run a bit of a chore. And I don’t mean I found the modernist stream of consciousness passages difficult to understand (those were my favourite bits, of course), I just found it… I don’t know… All a little dry, and attaching far too much importance to ideas and institutions that have little to no interest to me.
The novel is about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, a man in his mid-twenties, running away. The opening of the novel presents a very, very claustrophobic text dominated by his alcoholic, pregnant wife, which opens up once he hits the road, alone… Regarding Updike’s further treatment of women , the implied reliance and malleability of all the females Rabbit encounters is, to me at least, patronising at best.
Because Rabbit is a shit. He is not a nice man. He runs away, unannounced, from his pregnant wife and his two year old son. What compels him to return (I’m not giving anything away, it happens more than once) is not guilt, a topic I LOVE to read about, but a combined sense of “duty” and a want to “do the easiest thing”. Ultimately he is lazy. And a theist, deist, whatever the right word is. There is a lot about “faith” and about the importance of sport in American high schools and cars and roads and bawdy homosocial interactions and… It’s American literature about America, but (unlike the more recent Franzen), there is nothing I can recognise, nothing I can relate to.
So, I don’t deny that it is a novel of import, I can see that it is saying lots of insightful things about small-city life in the late 1950s in middle-America… But why would that interest me? I don’t believe in God, I don’t miss school sports, I don’t think I am the most important thing in my world, let alone the world.
I like novels about guilt-ravaged, self-depreciating, neurotic, atheistic depressives… And this is about as far from that as you can get. Rabbit is unfulfilled and a bit angry, he isn’t depressed… Rabbit thinks he’s the bloody man from Del Monte… He’s a hero I didn’t like, at all, and nor could I relate to him. As a sociological study, whatever, I can see its import. But as a novel, it offered me very little. I neither laughed nor cried, though I did think Updike’s writing really stood out when he was writing the more tragic sections towards the end of the book.
Or maybe I just prefer that kind of plot.
Not a bad book, and (at some point in a few years) I’d happily continue through the Rabbit series to the incredibly lauded final two volumes, but as a standalone piece… Not relevant to me. Not relevant at all.