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Review: Rabbit, Run

rabbit runTitle: Rabbit, Run

Author: John Updike

Genre: Fiction

One Sentence Summary: Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is a 26-year-old former high school basketball start that can’t seem to grow up and accept his responsibility as a husband and father.

One Sentence Review: Rabbit is not a likable character, and yet this book is surprisingly easy to love reading.

Grade: 95/100

Long Summary: Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is 26 and living what is, by most accounts, a good life. He’s married with a 2-year-old son and a baby on the way and has a decent job selling kitchen gadgets. However, this isn’t good enough for Harry — he feels trapped and constricted by an average life that doesn’t compare to his glory days as a high school basketball player.

Harry runs away from his wife and starts an affair with a woman in town. Things there seem to be going well until Harry runs away from her to go back to his wife as their daughter is born. But the second time around with his wife, Janice, doesn’t really go much better as the book spirals down into tragedy.

Long Review: I already wrote a Sunday Salon post about how I didn’t like Rabbit, but I enjoyed reading this book but I didn’t think that constituted a full review, mostly because there is a lot to think about with this book.  Instead, I’m going to use my responses from Weekly Geeks #22 (such a long time ago) to flesh out my feelings on this book.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) asked: Is it complicated to follow? Does it feel dated?

I didn’t find the book difficult to follow at all. Updike’s prose is lovely, so you can pretty easily get swept along with the story and not have to try very hard.

The one exception is near a scene where Rabbit’s wife, Janice, gets drunk while home alone. As the chapter progresses and Janice gets more and more confused about what is going on, the writing gets more and more, almost, blurry. Updike writes this section in a way that leaves the reader confused too, helping you understand what is happening to Janice through the writing. That section is hard to follow, but it’s deliberately so and I think it’s great.

The book does sometimes feel dated. I mean, it’s set in the 1950s, 1960s, so there’s this element of “boys will be boys” to it. I don’t think Updike imagines Rabbit is a good character after the things he does, but there’s a sort of implied acceptance of Rabbit’s philandering in a way that it wouldn’t be acceptable for a woman. So yeah, a little dated in that sense, but still good.

Care (Care’s Online Book Club) asked: I want to know if you think I should read the Updike.

Yes, I do. Updike is a great writer and I think you’d be missing something if you didn’t read him at some point. I’m not familiar enough with his work to say for sure if this is the particular book you should read, but I liked it and plan to read more Updike in the future.

Jodie (Book Gazing) asked: I’m afraid of reading Updike (reviews I’ve read and the fact that David Baddiel worships him and I almost never like books Baddiel likes) – how afraid should I continue to be? Are his books as sexist as I expect?

I don’t think you should be afraid. There is an element of sexism to the book, at least in the way the characters all act, but it didn’t bother me enough to not read the book. I’m the kind of person that’s more inclined to let writers from a different time period off the hook for having world views that now we think of as unacceptable (the racism in a lot of colonial literature, for example). If you’re not a person that can let stuff like that go, the sexism in this book might be too much.

Uncertainprinciples asked: Is it as good as everyone makes it out to be? (I’ve actually not heard a single negative statement about it).

This one is hard for me to answer because I don’t actually know what other people say about this book. I didn’t know the title before our book club, but in reading lists afterward it’s pretty clear this is a famous book.

I will say the writing in the book is as good as anyone has said it is. I thought Updike’s style and tone and command of language was remarkable. It’s a book that makes you want to write better and for that I have to recommend it.

As for plot and characters? They’re harder for me to assess, although I suppose the fact that I disliked most of them so much is a testament to how unlikeable Updike wrote them to be. And the plot moves along well, not getting stuck in one place for too much. And there’s a moment at the end I totally didn’t see coming, even though I should have.

Other Reviews: Apparently other people did not like this book as much as I did...

  • Shelf Love:  “I was surprised at how little I liked this book. Usually, when a book is as beautifully written as this one is, I’ll love it for that alone. … All of that said, I am not sorry I read the book. I would even recommend it – I think it’s probably worth reading for its generational portrait alone.”
  • Thoughts of Joy: “In the beginning, I shook my head due to the lengthy, drawn-out verbiage; in the middle, I shook my head due to Rabbit’s (main character) ridiculous choices; and at the end, I shook my head due to the pathetic conclusion.”

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Care July 22, 2009, 8:36 am

    oh, what great quotes you pulled for this. I do hope to read this someday. Sometimes, the idea of liking the character or not is irrelevant and sometimes so distracting. Funny how that happens and yet I suppose it depends entirely on the book and the author motives.

  • Jackie (Farm Lane Books) July 22, 2009, 9:34 am

    Great post! I haven’t read any Updike books yet, but plan to read this one day. I love the quotes you took from the other bloggers – I haven’t seen that done before – such a good idea!

  • Louise July 22, 2009, 10:36 am

    Great review. I am not at all familiar with Updike’s works, but I guess he is considered a classic writer? Or am I wrong about that?

  • Jodie July 23, 2009, 4:19 am

    Thanks for answering my questions – I will try to be less afraid of reading Updike 🙂 Am I the kind of person who can let sexism go, probably not, while I can understand the different situations that created it it still makes me mad. I think this is a situation where I just need to pick up the book and try it.

  • Jeanne July 23, 2009, 3:00 pm

    I’ve read two of the Rabbit books and The Witches of Eastwick, and I like Witches a lot better. Rabbit annoyed the heck out of me.

  • Jenny July 27, 2009, 12:10 pm

    Oh, goodness, that quote from Updike about The Witches of Eastwick sounds so condescending – like you can erase past sexism by writing a less sexist book. I have been trying to decide for years whether it’s worth my time to read Updike, given the claims of sexism, and I still don’t know! I might try The Witches of Eastwick, to start with, rather than the Rabbit books.