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Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Rabbit Redux (1971) by John Updike

Author John Updike as a young man
Book Review
Rabbit Redux (1971)
 by John Updike

   If a first tier novelist is one who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, then John Updike is at the very top of the second tier.  He won almost every literary prize except the Nobel Prize, including the Pulitzer (1982) and two National Book Awards (1964 and 1982.)  He also achieved best seller status and the kind of literary celebrity particular to authors writing in the second part of the 20th century.  But he wrote many novels, and forty years on, people really only read three-  the first three of the Rabbit series, of which Rabbit Redux is the second.

  The first Rabbit, written about Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, ex-high school athlete, current downwardly mobile father and husband, was a fairly self contained affair.  The running that Rabbit did in that book was from one suburb to the next suburb, with a return home to the first suburb at the end.  The philosophy was a very recognizable American brand existentialism, not the existentialism of the urban intellectuals represented by the Beats, but the working class existentialism of the era that immediately preceded the capital S "Sixties."

  Rabbit Redux, on the other hand, is the arrival of the Sixties in the universe of Rabbit Angstrom.  Or rather, Rabbit Redux is a kind of microcosm of the 60's as reflected in the life of Angstrom and his immediate family.  Rabbitt Redux culminates in a deeply disturbing take on the "summer of love" with Angstrom's wife absent, replaced by a winsome white teen runaway from Connecticut and a black Vietnam veteran.  Another major plot strand concerns Angstrom's flaky wife and her affair with a used car salesman, and Angstrom's lax reaction, meant to stand in for the issues surrounding women's sexual liberation.

  If Rabbit Redux hasn't aged well it's because Updike offers an unrepentantly privileged white male take on the issues of race, gender and class that defined the 1960's.  It's a classic take, but in 2016 people are looking for different perspectives, and Updike is your Dad's take.


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