Wednesday, May 13, 2009

32. Rabbit Redux – John Updike

History: This 1971 novel is the second book in the "Rabbit" series. Redux means "brought back, restored". Rabbit Redux led to a redux in popularity of the word redux and, in Rabbit at Rest, Rabbit notices: “a story… in the Sarasota paper a week ago, headlined Circus Redux. He hates that word, you see it everywhere, and he doesn’t know how to pronounce it. Like arbitrageur and perestroika."
Plot: The former high-school basketball star, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, is working a dead-end job and approaching middle age in the downtrodden and fictional city of Brewer, Pennsylvania, the city of his birth. When his wife leaves him for another man, Harry and his twelve-year-old son are at a loss, and the chaotic state of the nation circa 1969 finds its way into Harry's home. Updike's recurring themes of guilt, sex, and death are joined here by racism, as Harry plays host to an African-American named Skeeter, a cynical, drug-dealing Vietnam vet who engages Harry in debates about the war and race relations. A wealthy white teenager fleeing suburban Connecticut, Jill, enthralls both Harry and his son, and the four of them make a scandalous household emblematic of the most confusing implications, culminating in a house fire that kills Jill. Harry and Janice are finally reconciled at book's end.
Review: When I began this book and found Rabbit Angstrom 10 years older, fatter, softer, settled and no longer even running as he was in the earlier version, I wondered why Updike had locked himself in with this loser, why he had given himself so little elbow room. He has this habit, I thought, of keeping his people small -- old, precious or ordinary -- so he can write all around them, pin them with his exquisite entomology. He went back to Rabbit because he knew that it was too easy to have an intellectual or an artist as a hero. There is always a temptation to talk or think things out -- but with a guy like Rabbit, you have to act them out all the way, show what's happening to him, nakedly, without off-stage intellection or interpretation. The thought must be made flesh; the flesh, as in sex, made metaphor; the man in the street tormented into irony. Where Rabbit once ran away, he's now standing his ground, letting the world flow over and around him while he tries to keep his head above water.
Opening Line: “Men emerge pale from the little printing plant at four sharp, ghosts for an instant, blinking, until the outdoor light overcomes the look of constant indoor light clinging to them.”
Closing Line: “He finds this inward curve and slips along it, sleeps. He, She, Sleeps. O.K.?”
Quotes: “She sees her flying athlete grounded, cuckolded. She sees a large white man a knife would slice like lard.”
"You can never get the smell of smoke out. Like the smell of failure in life."
Rating: Good.

No comments:

Post a Comment