The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 28 July 2003

Rabbit Redux

by John Updike

Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom is a piece of work, or non-work as the case may dictate. He is inactive, thirty-six years old and not particularly engaged in any aspect of his life whatsoever. He seems awash in the currents of life swirling around him, and is either willing to go along with anything, or utterly unwilling to make his own choices. This results in his allowing some bizarre and awful things happen throughout this book. It is ten or so years after the events in Rabbit, Run. Rabbit has settled again with his wife in a suburb of this Pennsylvania town where he grew up and was once a high school basketball star. That was the high point in his life. It has been downhill from there, and this story extends his losing streak. In the opening chapters, his wife Janice leaves him for a man she works with in her father's car lot. Harry just lets her go, maybe because he did the same thing years before. He falls quickly in with some shady characters, and is soon shacking up with an 18 year-old girl and a scary militant black man. It is the end of the 1960s, and the violent and revolutionary nature of the times invades Harry's life. He just lets it all sweep in and take over his existence. But his disengagement and amoral detachment make for some ugly happenings to come. Is there any hope for this guy? He comes out as a very unlikable character, much worse than in the previous novel. There is a vaguely sickening feeling in the book, as one can see the disasters coming. And it seems that Harry is looking forward to disaster. He is saved only by the shady involvement of his family, and an overarching amoral atmosphere in which he lives. As always, Updike's writing is spot-on. Very evocative of the decaying urban and suburban landscape of Brewer, Pennsylvania. This book is almost painfully explicit, sexually and violently. It is vivid and jarring. Not Updike's best work, but a necessary step from Rabbit, Run to Pulitzer-winning Rabbit is Rich.

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Also by Updike: [Rabbit, Run] [Rabbit is Rich] [Rabbit at Rest] [Licks of Love] [The Centaur] [S.] [The Witches of Eastwick]
[Just Looking] [Still Looking] [The Poorhouse Fair] [Toward the End of Time] [Of the Farm]

See also: [Updike, by Adam Begley]