I just finished reading Rabbit, Run by John Updike for my book club meeting tomorrow. I’m not sure exactly what I think of it, but I wanted to get some of my own thoughts down before the meeting. I apologize for the randomness and stream-of-consciousness of the entry, I’m sort of write-thinking at the moment.
The main character of Rabbit, Run is 26-year-old Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, a former high school basketball star who now has a job selling kitchen appliances. Within the first few pages of the book, Harry runs away from his pregnant wife, Janice, and two-year-old son Nelson. He has a short affair with a woman named Ruth, but then returns to Janice the night she goes into labor. There’s more, but I don’t want to go into it because of spoilers and what not.
This book was different from what I’ve been reading lately for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one has to be that I didn’t like the main character at all. Harry is well-drawn out, believable, and well-written, but as a person I didn’t like him. I didn’t like his choices, I didn’t like his justifications for his actions, I didn’t even feel sympathetic for him.
I have give Updike credit for that — Harry is just about all-around unlikeable, but in a totally convincing way. He’s not a caricature of a bad person, he just has the exact selfish and self-absorbed personality that I find repugnant. But Updike did such a good job of drawing Harry out and telling a good story that I actually liked the book.
That seems so weird to me, given how much character has played a role in the books I’ve read lately. I’ve been reading a lot of books with characters I like or find interesting. Harry is just a jerk, but the book does such a good job of getting inside his head and inside the heads of all the other characters that I got drawn in. It was a really good book.
I’m curious what everyone at the book club will say tomorrow. I think whether someone likes the book or not will depend a lot on whether they can separate Harry from the story and the writing. If you can’t distance the too, then I think it would be hard to enjoy the book because he’s just such a unlikeable person, at least for me.
Have you ever read a book that you liked despite disliking the main character(s)? Which book, and why do you think you still liked it?