Guest Post from Ben: Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Featuring our second guest blog post, from my longtime friend and competitor in all things academic, Ben.  He’s keen on fiction and trends toward the classics, whereas I sometimes trend toward murder mysteries.  It’s good to have friends who make you aspirational.

Hello Laurenites, this is my first foray into blogging on the interwebs, but Lauren and I like talking about books so she convinced me to write a guest post. Hopefully I can live up to Nels’s, which was both a great post and The Road really is a great book.

Moving on, I will be talking about the book Rabbit, Run by John Updike (Side note: I have noticed Lauren likes using italics for her book titles, but I am still a fan of the old-fashioned underline. That is how Holy Trinity taught us to do it Lauren! (of course, we were hand-writing our papers, and it is a heck of a lot easier to write in underline than italics)) (Additional side note: I like parentheses, so you will have to get used to it.) I just read this book and figured it would be a good one to write a post about since Lauren doesn’t blog about too many novels that don’t involve wizards, muggles, and improperly numbered platforms.

I had never read Updike but decided to try Rabbit, Run since a) it is his most famous, b) it has a comma in the title, which is cool, and c) because there was a basketball on the cover. I am not sure where I got this, but I had an idea in my head that an Updike book would be very melancholic and pensive about life as a middle-aged middle-class white guy in this modern world. This is not exactly my thing but I like to give everything a try. I must say that at least in this book, my expectations were pleasantly incorrect. The emotions are much more raw and his writing was snappy and engaging. This was written when he was 28 (!) so maybe that has something to do with why it seems like it was written by a younger person (perhaps 28 or so).

The book is about Harry Angstrom, nicknamed Rabbit, who is a tall, 26-year old former high school basketball player living in a small town in Pennsylvania. Now, you may not know this about me, but I am almost 26, somewhat tall and also a former high school basketball player (I do not live in Pennsylvania however). This coincidental similarity between me and the main character probably made the book all the more interesting to me, so if you don’t fit this limited profile, maybe you won’t enjoy it as much (I would like to point out that after these superficialities I do NOT in any way resemble Rabbit). In the beginning of the book, Rabbit is unsatisfied with his life selling kitchen gadgets, married to Jennifer, who is pregnant with their second child. Rabbit decides to just drive away, but ends up driving back in town and eventually settles into living with a prostitute. Throughout the course of the novel he gets constructive and not-so-constructive criticism from his wife’s parents, his old high-school coach and a town minister trying to reconcile him and his wife. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot but basically the underlying theme is the struggles of keeping responsibilities to others and staying the ever-elusive “true to oneself” (if such a thing even exists).

I should first say that I like post-modern novels, but my main complaint with most of them is NOTHING. EVER. HAPPENS. The writing is beautiful and great themes and ideas are touched upon, but the plots are occasionally nothing more than an excuse for the author to call it a novel and not a long essay. Not much actually happens, and it is more that things happen to the main character, not the main character doing anything him/herself (because God forbid you conform to classical views of heroism where protagonists actually do anything). And the ending is always completely ambiguous. The books just seem to end for no apparent reason. Every once and a while this “Identity Plot” as it is sometimes called, is okay, but I like for things to happen in my books, and I certainly want a gratifying ending. The ending of Rabbit, Run is ambiguous, and Rabbit isn’t always extremely proactive, but something BIG does happen (in one of the most heart-felt chapters of the novel) and though Rabbit’s future is uncertain, the conclusion is still very satisfying.

One last thing I will mention is that I found the novel to be difficult at times for the same reason a lot of people find Lolita difficult: the books makes you want to love a main character who does despicable things. Because although Rabbit is not a child rapist, he does (among other things) desert his family, cheat on his wife, and at times does not seem to care too much about these facts. At the same time he is charismatic and clever and you identify with his desire to just escape from it all. But seriously, I would absolutely hate anyone in real life who would behave like Rabbit does, yet the book had me getting mad at the people who were deriding him. This made me pretty uncomfortable and I am honestly still thinking about it, which is the sign of a pretty good book if you ask me.

There are four sequels to Rabbit, Run, (two of which won the Pulitzer Prize). I have not decided if I will read them or not. I am sure they are better than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I kind of like inventing my own ending for Rabbit.

The screenwriter for the movie 8-Mile has said he was slightly influenced by Rabbit, Run, and Eminem’s character is nicknamed “B-Rabbit.” Pretty cool huh?


3 responses to “Guest Post from Ben: Rabbit, Run by John Updike

  1. In one of Anne Fadiman’s essays, she mentions that her daughter thought that Rabbit at Rest was about a bunny. Evocative title, no?

  2. I’ll have to add this to the list of books I’ll read soon! It sounds great.

  3. Pingback: All Lauren the Bookworm Reads: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro « Lauren the Bookworm

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