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Monday, December 14, 2015

Rabbit, Run (1960) by John Updike

Book Review
Rabbit, Run (1960)
 by John Updike

  John Updike actually worked at the New Yorker before going full time as a novelist.  He personifies the idea of "New Yorker Fiction" in my mind,  He's white, he's male, he lives in New England. Rabbit, Run was the first novel in his tetralogy about Rabbit Angstrom, a former high school basketball star who has trouble to adjusting to life after stardom.

   At the beginning of Rabbit, Run  Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom is unhappily married to a young woman named Janice who is heavily pregnant and heavily drinking.  He works demonstrating a "slicer dicer" in a department store. Janice and Harry already have one child, a boy, who is a toddler.  He is 26.   Based on feelings of alienation and ennui, Angstrom abandons Janice in favor of the company of a part-time prostitute in the town next door.

  Although published in 1960, Angstrom is a quintessential 1950s character.  In the preface John Updike wrote for the collected Harry Angstrom novels, he mentions how he read Jack Kerouac and the writers of the Beat Generation "with horror" because they "abandoned their responsibilities."  At the same time Rabbit, Run is racier than I had imagined.  Sexuality is addressed as frankly as one would see in a Henry Miller novel, and there are female solliguys that owe a direct debt to the sexually frank passages in Ulysses by James Joyce (Updike acknowledges the debt in his foreword.)
 Updike is one of those "so square that he's hip again."  He's still awaiting something like a first revival after being canonized even before his own death.  Rabbit, Run is a sharp, fresh take on contemporary American life circa the mid 1950s.

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