Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rabbit, Run

Last night we met as a reading group to discuss John Updike's Rabbit, Run. Nobody liked the book, including me. To a person the members of the group in attendance didn't think the book had any redeeming characters except Harry Angstrom's son, Nelson. And Nelson didn't have a significant role in the novel.

I first read Rabbit, Run in my late thirties or early forties. I didn't like it then either. In fact, after that reading of it, I decided to avoid reading anything John Updike wrote. I saw Updike several times on television --- in the news or as a guest on a talk show, etc.. I didn't like him in those appearances either. It was as though we lived in two different worlds, he and I, and we had lived totally different experiences , so much so that we couldn't find any common ground.

Because my life has not been peopled by anyone that seemed as self-centered or uncaring as Harry Angstrom, it was hard to identify with the Rabbit. I found him despicable and found myself totally incapable of identifying with the place he was at. What is more curious to me are the many awards and platitudes John Updike received for his work, not just including Rabbit, Run, but for his entire body of work, and, especially, for his series four books featuring Harry Angstrom.

The blurbs on the back of the trade paperback we bought include one by the Washington Post:

Brilliant and poignant... By his compassion, clarity of insight, and crystal-bright prose, [Updike] makes Rabbit's sorrow is and our own.

Not one single reader in our group --- and it included me, my wife, Janice, Juanita, Kris, Cheri, and Sue (regulars Brian and Merrilee were absent --- Merrilee had selected this book) saw any compassion whatsoever in Harry Angstrom. Nor did we see any clarity of insight in the man. Now, it is perhaps debatable whether or not Updike's prose was crystal-bright or not. So, giving him the benefit of the doubt for that, one out of three is not too good.

One blurb I have to agree with:

Updike's punches powerful. --- Newsweek

I'd say it knocked us all out, completely out, and it surprises me Updike was able to make a living by writing, judging by this novel.

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