Friday, September 4, 2009

Rabbit Runs Down

I guess this is it for Rabbit and me. I have experienced the span of Rabbit's life and Updike's clear and beautiful description of it in less than a year. It took Rabbit fifty-eight years to live it, and Updike forty years to write it. Rabbit at Rest is John Updike's last Rabbit novel, and Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is definitely slowing down. Ten years have passed since “Rabbit is Rich”, and Harry and his wife Janice now live half the year in a condo in Florida, while their son Nelson has taken over the management of their Toyota dealership in Brewer, Pennsylvania. Has the passage of time brought wisdom and contentment to the old basketball player? Not a chance.

But Harry's mortality is catching up with him, and he broods over his body's frailties, even as he continues to scarf junk food. The inevitable result is a heart attack on a Florida beach, and a vivid description of Harry's angioplasty. When Harry and Janice return to Pennsylvania, Harry at first seems to feel a new appreciation for life, noticing the flowering pear trees for the first time. But he's still sleeping with his old mistress, even as she nears death, and he's still bullying, brutish father to his totally screwed up son (Nelson has acquired an expensive cocaine habit that threatens the future of the dealership, and his wife and two children are drifting away from him). True to form, when Rabbit's libido once again gets him trouble, he runs. And Janice, busy with a new career and fed up with her philandering husband, doesn't even follow.

So why bother reading about this misogynistic, self-absorbed coot? Because in Updike's hands he's so much more than that. Angstrom has always seemed to represent the path not chosen for Updike, his contemporary who stayed behind in small town Pennsylvania instead of leaving for Harvard and a life of accomplishment. His prose beautifully expresses his nostalgia for this piece of American life, and his sympathy for his bumbling, stumbl
ing hero.

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