Friday, November 27, 2009

The Year of the Rabbit

No, not the Chinese lunar calendar kind of year. I mean my own personal year with Rabbit Angstrom. It started in March when our book club, mindful of his recent death, decided to read John Updike's “Rabbit, Run”. I was intrigued by Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, this impulsive, confused, horny everyman who seemed to be seeking something he couldn't define, and running from family, responsibility and himself.

So in April I read “Rabbit Redux” (The Next Chapter) and picked up Rabbit's story in the turbulent Sixties, where his odd alliance with a black revolutionary and a rich-girl drug addict produced a fractured, intense drama that matched the times. And in May I read “Rabbit Is Rich” (Rabbit Is Paunchy) where Rabbit, ten years removed from his Sixties self, was selling Toyotas and enjoying the middle class life of country clubs and golf games, but still struggling to connect to his alienated son, still driven by his libido and by his search for meaning. In September I read “Rabbit At Rest” (Rabbit Runs Down), where Rabbit, now in his fifties, facing his own mortality, tried to do what he had always done – run. You can probably guess how that turned out.

So I thought Rabbit and I were done. But then I discovered Licks of Love, a collection of Updike short stories published in 2000. The final story, a novella length piece entitled “Rabbit Remembered”, is the final chapter in the Rabbit saga. It's now 1999, and as the millennium approaches Rabbit's wife Janice and son Nelson are both still in Brewer, Pennsylvania. Rabbit is gone but his presence still lingers. And then it appears in the flesh in the person of Annabelle, Rabbit's daughter from his brief fling with Ruth in “Rabbit, Run”.

Updike shows us flashes of Rabbit – impulsive, patriotic, unapologetic, searching – in both his two offspring and his awkward grandson. And there are flashes of Updike's brilliance as well – his affection for small town life, his ability to weave the historical events of the era into the narrative, his honest portrayal of his flawed characters. But with Rabbit things were always messy and off balance, so I was a little disappointed in the tidy ending.

I've enjoyed my Year of the Rabbit. I don't know when I'll have another chance to follow a character and an author through forty years. Goodbye Rabbit; goodbye John Updike.

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