Regarding Rabbit, Run
August 5, 2009
posted and written by Caroline Picard
Had I not read A Personal Matter so recently, I think I would have more patience for John Updike’s Rabbit, Run. It’s nicely written, I think, which is to say the writing is full of surprises. One of my favorite passages takes place with Rabbit, the protagonist, driving in the middle of the night (he has just abandoned his family), listening to the radio. A list ensues with songs heard, radio commercials and world news. I liked thinking about the flatness of that paragraph and how each participating noun was granted the same weight–whether a love-pop-song, an advert for bryl cream, or the unknown whereabouts of the dalai lama.
Nevertheless, it’s still about a dude running away from his family. Which is all well and good, except that I just read about those same troubles taking place in Japan and in larger extremes.
Perhaps because Updike also takes place in the post-fifties, pre-hippy era, (circa Dragnet?), where gender roles run rampant, I found the book hard to bear through. I could not tell how complicit Updike was, how sympathetic he was to his main character, who with Carver-esque baggage and social standing, continually returns to the sad hoorah of his better high school years. Of course, Updike pities the man, because of course it’s always sad when high school is boasted as the time of one’s life. Nevertheless, Updike wants Rabbit to be a symbol of the American man of his time. And maybe that’s fair, but it’s certainly out of date. While Updike doesn’t pull back from revealing the uglier parts of Rabbit’s character, he also affords this rhapsodic passages of sexual intercourse in which Rabbit finds some, albeit fleeting, redemption. Such passages appear as offerings from the author to the character in the book, where Updike appears to pity his protagonist and, through language, wants to sooth him.
Obviously I’m conflicted about it. Maybe that’s good. At the same time the Rabbit character just made a royal stink about his mistress not wearing a diaphram.