Alphabet Soup Author Edition – Rabbit, Run – John Updike.

Genre: American, Anti-heroes,

Narrative Style: Chronological, third person from various points of view

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1960

Format: Hardback

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.

Writing Challenges: Alphabet Soup – Author Challenge.

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.

Books Read in 2014 – 43. The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

imagesGenre: supernatural, magic realism

Narrative Style: Third person, chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1984

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: In a quiet Rhode Island town, three divorcees join forces to create a powerful magical force. When Darryl Van Horne arrives in their town, the balance between them is disturbed and all hell breaks loose.

I was surprised to enjoy this quite so much. I wasn’t a big fan of the film although it was a long time ago that I saw it. But I recently inherited a lot of John Updike books and I thought a familiar storyline was a good place to start. Having said that, the story really didn’t ring any bells which might be because I can’t remember it or it may be that the film is completely different.

The story starts with a description of the three witches and their various talents and powers. It is true that their power does seem to rest with their sexuality or with nature – typically feminine forms of power. This was a bit of an irritant but I found that Updike’s rich prose and stunning description kept me reading regardless of any issues I may have had with stereotypical representations of women.

The arrival of Darryl Van Horne in Eastwick has a profound effect on all three of the women and he nurtures their talents as well as inviting them to his house for long sexy baths. He may have been conjured up by their collective longing or he may be the devil come to check on their powers. Either way, he upsets the balance of power between the women and in the town in general and things start to take a darker turn. What is also certain is that his powers are really no match for theirs and when he fails to gain what he wants, he dematerializes as suddenly as he came.

This is a fabulously, abundantly written book with almost too much to take in one every page. Updike never misses an opportunity to satirize small town life and the small ways people try to gain power for themselves. The details are nothing if not convincing even in amongst the supernatural happenings. I will certainly be reading more Updike and I wish I had not waited so long to read my first one.