Genre: American, Anti-heroes,
Narrative Style: Chronological, third person from various points of view
Synopsis: Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom’s best days are behind him. He was the star basketball player when he was at school. Since then, he has married and has a child. His wife is pregnant again. But he doesn’t love his wife and he hates his job demonstrating a gadget in a store. He is dissatisfied and fed up so, on impulse, he deserts his wife and son and embarks on a journey to find something more satisfying.
This was a hard book to read. Not because of the prose. Updike’s style is easy enough to read. It was the characters. I expected that I would probably have difficulty with Rabbit Angstrom. And he was unpleasantly sure of himself, always convinced he was on the right path simply because he had chosen it. But I had expected that there would have been some way of empathising with him. This was not the case. Nor was it any easier to empathise with his wife who was also an unpleasant drunk. I have no doubt that this is an accurate representation of a certain type of American masculinity and the havoc it can wreak but I didn’t feel drawn into the story. I was like an observer watching the decay of society from a distance.
At first, Rabbit just drives off, wanting to be far away from his wife and son. He gets lost and ends up driving back to his hometown. He doesn’t want to go home and admit defeat so he goes to see his old basketball coach who is full of Rabbit’s past glories – perhaps the only person to still see Harry as if he was a sporting hero. They go to dinner and Rabbit meets Ruth, a part time prostitute.
Rabbit forces himself into her life. He has soon set up a alternative domestic arrangement for himself. Out of everyone, Ruth is perhaps the easiest to have some sympathy for. She tries not to let Rabbit into her life but he just doesn’t give up. He is unable to see her as anything other than a means to sex. Rabbit is obsessed with sex perhpas because he thinks he is good at it and so it gives him the same sense of worth that BAsketball used to. Indeed, his sexual obsession is a facet of his relationship with his wife also. When he returns to her, after their second child is born, he is unable to leave her alone even though she has so recently given birth. When she refuses him, he walks out the door again.
This is also a book about religion. Rabbit is unable to completely escape his marriage as he meets priest, Jack Eccles who sees it as his duty to bring Rabbit and his wife back together. Rabbit’s conversations with Jack prove how far he is from God. Like his marriage, Rabbit finds the current framework of religious beliefs unsatisfactory. He is looking for something more, something spiritual but he doesn’t have the intelligence to really understand what it is.
This novel has a tragic ending. When Rabbit deserts his wife for the second time, she gets drunk and accidentally drowns their baby while trying to clean her up in the bath. This was the only time I felt any real emotions during the reading of this book. I couldn’t quite believe Updike was going to let it happen. It was heartbreaking, both for the reader and for Rabbit and his wife. However, any sympathy for Rabbit quickly disappears as he is soon back to his old tricks and is off out the door again.
I’m in two minds as to whether I will read anymore of this series. I’m not really sure that there could be anything new to say really. A part of me is curious to see where Updike will take the narrative but perhaps that isn’t enough to carry on with a series that will undoubtedly be a bit of a slog.