Rabbit, Run is the first novel in John Updike’s critically acclaimed Rabbit Angstrom series. In the 2006 survey conducted by the New York Times, which asked for the best American novel of the last 25 years, the Rabbit Angstrom novels emerged as one of the runners-up. I’m more interested in the last two installments of the series, but I figure that if I want to read them, I might as well read the first two first.
Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom was a basketball superstar in high school. Now at mid-twenties, he works as a sales and demo man of kitchen gadgets, and he’s married to Janice, currently pregnant and currently suffering from alcohol issues. They have a two-year-old toddler named Nelson and they all live in the suburban town Mt. Judge.
Rabbit is given this nickname not only because of his leporine face but because he is always running away and trying to escape the imminent judgment of the people. The town’s name is no understatement. There seems to be a pair of giant eyes over the city, an invisible lens that lets the townspeople see and judge him. He runs away from his wife Janice, twice, and he runs away from his mistress Ruth, twice.
He could have been named Rabbit Angst instead because there are parts that subtly deal with his quarter-life crisis. One such part details the first time he runs away. He is supposed to pick up his son from his in-laws. but decides to drive away. He does not have a destination. He just drives on and on, dropping by diners in the towns he visits and switching the radio from one station to the other. This listless driving perfectly captures the state of Rabbit’s mind and therefore sets the general mood of the novel.
The novel offers big themes, such as faith, love, sex, fear, guilt, and death. The minister Eccles befriends Rabbit to help him sort out his issues. During their conversations, one gets the feeling that Eccles is blaspheming the same God that he is leading the townspeople to worship. It’s like his undergoing a crisis like that of Rabbit’s. Are they doing the right things? What is the purpose of the things that they do?
There are extended passages on sex, but there is a gaping absence of love among the characters. The few moments where there could be love are usually tinged with either fear or anxiety. In a novel that is filled with guilt-tripping and blame-slinging, it’s not surprising to find the reader, at the end of the novel, asking whether or not Rabbit is capable of love. Should we care about what he feels? Does he know what he’s doing? Where is he going?
Rabbit comes to the curb but instead of going to his right and around the block he steps down, with as big a feeling as if this is little side street is a wide river, and crosses. He wants to travel to the next patch of snow. Although this block of brick three-stories is just like the one he left, something in it makes him happy; the steps and window sills seem to twitch and shift in the corner of his eye, alive. this illusion trips him. His hands lift of their own and he feels the wind on his ears even before, his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first but with an effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah: runs. Runs.
I didn’t have an easy time finishing this as it tends to meander out of control, but the last quarter delivered. Besides, the writing is very good. I would continue reading the rest of the series.
[Read in February 2015.]
[3 out of 5 stars.]
[284 pages. Mass market paperback.]