Sunday, June 14, 2009

Updike’s Rabbit, Run

I like the protagonists in the novels I read to be well-grounded at some point in the story. If the protagonist in a particular novel is not grounded, I expect some major character in the work to be grounded

What do I mean by being well-grounded? I mean that the protagonist or some other major character in the story line can make sense out his or her existence at some point in time. I'm not big on pervasive existentialism; I don't think the world is meaningless or absurd, even though it can seem that way. Therefore, I reject that disorientation and confusion arise because the world is meaningless or absurd. I don't deny that people can believe it is, but my experience in life is that even if somebody believes it is meaningless and absurd, in that person's life there are enough people who discount that notion and live their lives otherwise who need to be accounted for in a work of fiction.

For me, Rabbit, Run fails that test. I didn't find a single redeeming major character in the book that can make sense out of his or her existence at some point in time. First, we have Harry "Rabbit "Angstrom, the twenty-six-year-old former high school basketball star, who now demonstrates kitchen gadgets for the Magipeel Peeler Company. During the entire story, Rabbit is never once grounded. All his longing is for the past, for his stardom as a basketball player, or for some immediate temporal gratification in the present. Rabbit's pregnant wife, Janice, mother of their son, Nelson, likewise has no moment that makes sense to her in the overall scheme of things. Marty Tothero, Rabbit's former high school basketball coach, is as profligate as they come. The same is true of Ruth Leonard, the prostitute. And over against her, is the Rev. Jack Eccles, the young Episcopal minister who would "heal" Rabbit, but in the end is as confused as anybody else in the novel.

The only character with any real potential was little Harry. And look what John Updike did to him.

There's no question of Updike's ability for intelligence. Only of his heart.

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