20070916

Rabbit, Run

John Updike: Rabbit, Run

Betyg: 4

Rabbit had a wife and kids in Pennsylvania, Jack
/:He went out for a ride, and then he went back
Then he went out for a ride, and then he went back:/ (da capo al fine)


Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom really is a spoiled little asshole, isn't he? Like a literary Al Bundy, still hung up on his brief turn as a high school star athlete, stuck in a dead-end sales job, watching his life go by as his wife expects her second child and is already slipping into permanent housewifeitis, afternoon TV and alcohol and all. Had this been a few years later, I guess the soundtrack would have been the Stones' "Mother's Little Helper". Only there's no one to really help Janice; Rabbit runs.

And then it all starts to get complicated. Wonderfully complicated, at times; as a story, there's not much there, but Updike's prose is (for the most part) exhilarating to read (even in the somewhat clunky translation I read). It takes a lot to have a main protagonist like Rabbit and have him carry the novel - he's not really a BAD guy as such, just doesn't think things through, not to mention being a bit of a misogynist and still expecting things to work out if he can just find the right play like he used to do in baseball. Make a few substitutions, take the penalty shot, win the game. Everyone makes a big deal about him never fouling anyone on the court; off-court, it's a different matter - with no ref to stop the game when something goes wrong, Rabbit runs too far. He can never run too far.

Updike adds a lot of depth to a fairly mundane tale and characters; discussing religion, classes, the losing side of the American dream - the people in the book are several-generation immigrants, hard-working protestants, Swedes, Germans, Anglos, doing their duty and being thoroughly miserable for it. (Yes, I quoted Springsteen for a reason.) And that's really the main problem with the novel; it's almost quite literally hopeless, a drab story told in gaudy colours. You end up wincing at almost every exquisitely worded phrase, because it's never going to end well.

It's about responsibility, isn't it? Spouses to each other, parents to children, priests to parishioners, johns to whores, man to his fellow man etc. Or perhaps rather, the lack of it. The young reverend who thinks he can make a difference, the old one who chides him for being naive.

Updike can write. DAMN, can he write. I honestly don't see how he got three more novels out of Rabbit Angstrom, but I think I'm going to find out at some point; the good description of the bad far outweighs the bad of the well-described (is that a sentence?)

Yeah, just sittin' back, tryin' to recapture
A little of the glory of
But when time slips away, leaves you with nothin', mister
But boring stories of glory days...

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