Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rabbit, Run

John Updike's Rabbit, Run is a classic of 20th Century American literature and it shows up on a few notable lists of the best books of all time. I found it to be depressing and a bit boring, and the protagonist is so unsympathetic it was difficult to plow through and virtually impossible to like.

Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom is a 26-year-old former high school basketball star. He has an unfulfilling marriage, an unfulfilling career, virtually no relationship with his 2-year-old son, and he walks away from all of them on a whim. He quickly falls into a relationship with a loose woman across town and moves in with her for a couple of months. The Reverend of a local church urges him to return to his wife, which he does on the night she gives birth to their daughter. This reunion is completely hopeless, and the next time Rabbit abandons his wife it results in tragedy. A second and briefer reunion sends him back into the arms of his mistress, whom he has also knocked up and inevitably abandons as well.

Updike is a master of prose, and there are passages that so beautifully capture the hopelessness of Rabbit's situation they briefly illuminate the novel that might have been, had Updike chosen someone other than a first class asshole as his hero. Rabbit eschews responsibility for his actions, he acts like a spoiled kid, he abandons the (admittedly deeply flawed) women - and the completely innocent toddler - who rely on him... He's a jerk. I know people who love Updike, and I truly hope to hear from them in the comments or on Facebook, but I cannot embrace any book that celebrates a character like Rabbit Angstrom.

Up next: Persuasion by Jane Austen

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