5.21.2009

rabbit, run by john updike

Upon hearing of John Updike's departure from this mortal coil in what?, this past January?, I realized that I'd never actually sat down and read any of Updike's extensive catalog of work. Of course I'd heard of him—seemingly as the author of somewhat salacious novels about modern day witches and somesuch—but I'd never bothered to actually crack open the cover of any of them. Mostly because they were seemingly salacious novels about modern day witches and somesuch.

Well, it took me awhile to get around to it, but a couple of weeks ago, I made a trek to the library and picked up a copy of arguably his most famous novel, Rabbit, Run. I figured since he was dead and all, he didn't really need any more money, so borrowing it was better than actually owning it. Especially if I didn't like it. What I wasn't expecting was a well-written, highly entertaining, hard to put down, really great story. About a protagonist with a dilemma that nearly every single one of us can relate to—the desire to escape the mundaneness of every day life. And Updike has a command of the language that can be simply amusing or stunningly breathtaking:
He doesn't want to go down along the water anyway; his image is of himself going right down the middle, right into the broad soft belly of the land, surprising the dawn cottonfields with his northern plates.
The beginning of the story finds Rabbit impulsively getting into his car after a long day and a run-in with his increasingly unattractive wife, and heading out on the open road. Surprisingly,he ends up turning around the very second he makes a wrong turn and gets a little lost, so his desire for escape is somewhat tepid at best, but still, he yearns.

The rest of the book explores the paradox of how easy it seems on the surface to escape from the mire of one's life, but how in reality, it's extremely difficult. Every time Rabbit thinks he's making a little bit of progress, something or someone comes along and sucks him right back down to the bottom. And, really when it comes right down to it, Rabbit doesn't want to leave all that badly. He's just a wee bit bored. And full of himself. The main problem is, in the end, that Rabbit is a bit of a douche and if he had half as much backbone as he thinks he does, he'd have had absolutely no problem whatsoever leaving this life he supposedly detests. Something he says about halfway through the book sums up his story in its entirety:
'If you have the guts to be yourself, other people will pay your price.'

All in all, it was a well written, charming story full of graphic sex and middle-class suburban adventure, but I'm not all that inspired to read the rest of the series.

1 comment:

Michael5000 said...

I was pleasantly suprised by Rabbit, too. I thought the road trip sequence at the beginning was just breathtaking -- it felt like one long sentence, with all the restless energy of the character.

I haven't read the follow-ups, but Mrs.5000 has read three of four and loves the way they capture the feel of the times they are set in. They are on my Reading List, and I'm looking forward to them.