Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

Title: Rabbit at Rest

Author: John Updike

Pages: 465

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

First sentence: "Standing amid the tan, excited post-Christmas crowd at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport, Rabbit Angstrom has a funny sudden feeling that what he has come to meet, what's floating in unseen about to land, is not his son Nelson and daughter-in-law Pru and their two children but something more ominous and intimately his own: his own death, shaped vaguely like an airplane."

OK, I decided that I need to make up my own summary, because the ones I've found give too much away. Don't you hate that?

The final in the Rabbit Angstrom series (Although there's a novella that follows the timeline of this, according to Amazon), Rabbit at Rest finds Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom at 55-years-old, semi-retired and suffering from a bad heart. The book is set in 1988-1989, nearly 30 years from the setting of the first novel in the series.

He and his wife, Janice, now spend half their year at a condominium in Florida, and the other half back home in Pennsylvania. The novel opens with the couple waiting for a post-Christmas visit from their son, Nelson, and his family. Nelson becomes increasingly antagonistic and "twitchy" throughout the trip, often disappearing for long periods of time with Harry and Janice's car.

Following a heart attack in Florida, Harry and Janice return to Pennsylvania, where Harry has an angioplasty. Although he knows he should exercise more and eat less, Harry can't get past the desire to snack constantly, mostly on things that are terrible for him.

The couple finds out Nelson is addicted to cocaine and has swindled the family Toyota dealership out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Harry tries to convince Janice to pull Nelson from the job, a job Harry never wanted him to have because he doesn't think Nelson is responsible enough, but it isn't until Nelson admits his problem and enters rehabilitation that anything gets done.

I really don't want to go into much more in this summary, as it kind of helps give away the ending. So, if you're still interested, read the book!

My Two Cents:
This was my favorite of the whole quartet, at least from what I can remember of Rabbit, Run. Nelson is still as annoying as he was in Rabbit is Rich (My review here) , but Harry is much less horrible than he was in Rabbit Redux (My review here). In fact, he seemed to mellow out a whole lot more and actually start to stand up for what he thought should happen instead of sitting back and taking it all.

Janice started to redeem herself in my mind in this book, but kind of threw it all away in the latter part of the book. I didn't like her in Redux because she put herself before the welfare of her son, and she was just really, really dumb in Rich. She was still far too indulgent of Nelson and his immaturity, but she actually stood up to him, which he needed.

As always, Updike was one of the masters of prose writing. Some of these passages are amazingly brilliant and detailed. Here's an example:

Up, up; the air thins, the barometer registers, the timer begins to tick as the plane snugly bores through the darkness and the pilot chats on the radio while the cockpit lights burn and wink around him and the passengers nod over their drinks in their slots of pastel plastic. This image, like a seed at last breaking its shell in moist soil, awakens in Harry the realization that even now as he lies here in this antiseptic white fog tangled in tubes and ties of blood and marriage he is just like the people he felt so sorry for, falling from the burst-open airplane: he too is falling, helplessly falling, toward death. The fate awaiting him behind this veil of medical attention is as absolute as that which greeted those bodies fallen smack upon the boggy Scottish earth like garbage bags full of water.

I'm still failing to see where this quartet is a "valentine to (Updike's) country" as Joyce Carol Oates said, but I think this is a book, if only for the prose alone, belongs in the American canon of great books.

My rating: 8/10


Greg Zimmerman said...

Nice review! I made it through the first two Rabbit books several years ago, but stopped there. Sounds like you're saying I should pick up where I left off and get to "Rest" soon!

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