Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review: Rabbit Redux by John Updike

Book: Rabbit Redux
Author: John Updike
Pages: 368

From Wikipedia:

Rabbit Redux finds the former high-school basketball star, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, working a dead-end job and approaching middle age in the downtrodden and fictional city of Brewer, Pennsylvania, the city of his birth. When his wife leaves him for another man, Harry and his 12 year old son are at a loss, and the chaotic state of the nation circa 1969 finds its way into Harry's home.

Updike's recurring themes of guilt, sex, and death are joined here by racism, as Harry plays host to an African-American named Skeeter, a cynical, drug-dealing Vietnam vet who engages Harry in debates about the war and race relations. A wealthy white teenager fleeing suburban Connecticut, Jill, enthralls both Harry and his son, and the four of them make a scandalous household emblematic of the Summer of Love's most confusing implications, culminating in a house fire that kills Jill. Harry and his wife are finally reconciled at book's end.

My two cents:

I thought this book was terrible. Ick, ick, ick.

I read Rabbit, Run back in college and must have enjoyed it enough to warrant the purchase of the entire Rabbit quartet (It was five years ago and there have been a lot of books since then... I can only remember certain images from Rabbit, Run and the overall impression that I liked it a lot). I felt compelled to read the other three books when Updike passed away earlier this year (Obviously, it's taken me a long time to get there), and now I kind of don't want to press on to the final two books.

I got the impression of Rabbit, in this novel, as one of those creepy guys standing around the mall in their windbreakers (In the middle of July, no less) staring at all the teenage girls as they walk by. Sketchy to the max.

He just lets things happen to him, lets everyone decide the path of his life. His wife admits she has an affair, he says, "OK, fine. You can keep seeing him." She leaves him, he doesn't care. He lets a girl half his age move into his house and possibly begin his 12-year-old son's sexual initiation (How creepy is that? She's sleeping with the Rabbit and maybe even teaching his son the ways of the world, and Rabbit doesn't care?). He allows said girl to bring a black man on the run from the law, and a serious drug addict at that, into the home, and he just lights up some joints and reads Frederick Douglass aloud.

Don't get me wrong: Updike is a fabulous writer. The way he has with words is astonishing. But Rabbit is just a boring, awful man.

Since my volume has all four novels in one, it has little blurbs on the back about the quartet as a whole. In one of them, Joyce Carol Oates calls the quartet Updike's "valentine to his country."

If Rabbit Redux is a valentine, I'd be looking for the white powder in the envelope.

My rating: 3/10


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