Friday, May 29, 2009

Rabbit is Paunchy

I'm hooked on Rabbit. So when I finished John Updike's “Rabbit Redux” I immediately headed for Rabbit Is Rich (and thank you SFPL for your incredibly efficient book request system). As with the earlier Rabbit books, another ten years have passed in Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom's life. The year is 1979 and he is now half owner of his late father-in-law's Toyota dealership. Gas has reached the astounding price of one dollar per gallon, with gas lines at every station, so business is good for the fuel efficient Corollas, Coronas and Celicas that Rabbit sells. He and his wife Janice (yes, they're still together) have joined a new country club, where he plays golf and she plays tennis with their circle of newly middle class friends, and Rabbit seems more content and grounded than when we last saw him ten years ago in the turbulent 60's. He's reading Consumer Reports and investing in gold and silver.

But Rabbit is still Rabbit. His reach still exceeds his grasp, even though he's not reaching very far. He wants to make amends to Ruth, the woman he lived with for a time in “Rabbit, Run” when he was running from his marriage. He wants to have sex with his friend Webb's young wife (he's still the horndog). And when his son Nelson drops out of Kent State and returns home, he wants a better life for him than Nelson wants for himself. Harry can't seem to connect with Nelson. He thinks this is because Nelson is too much like Janice's side of the family, but in truth his son has the same impulse control problems his father has, and he has learned his father's wise-ass way of avoiding expressing his real feelings. Harry is jealous of Nelson's youth, attracted to his girlfriends, and frustrated that his son is not taking advantage of the opportunities that he never had. Rabbit is still twitchy.

Updike's prose is a pleasure to read. Whether he's describing a rundown country farm, a woman's body in a wet bathing suit, or the light filtered into a bedroom through a copper beech, he seems able to capture images that ring true. This book has wonderfully humorous moments, plenty of sex, and thoughtful reflections on aging and parenthood. I'm not done with you yet, Rabbit.

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