‘So tall, he seems an unlikely rabbit, but the breath of white face, the pallor of his blue irises, and a nervous flutter under his brief nose as he stabs a cigarette into his mouth partially explain the nickname, which was given to him when he too was a boy.’ (p. 3)
For years I’ve been hearing about John Updike and his four books about Harry Angstrom, the man know as Rabbit. Three of the four books about Rabbit are on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and two of the books even received the Pulitzer Prize. Before he died, Updike was mentioned frequently as a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature – together with one of my favorite authors Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth who so far does nothing but impress me. So he’s an impressive author. But so far Updike hasn’t really won me over. I read Terrorist a couple of years ago and liked it but felt let down by the ending. I watched The Witches of Eastwick and can’t remember much from it. But now it was time for me to try out the Rabbit series. Rabbit Run is a very apt name for a book about a man who basically runs whenever faced with adversity. Back in the 1960s, Harry Angstrom is living with pregnant wife Janice and their son Nelson. But one day the drinking habits of his wife and the smallness of their apartment just gets to be too much and he leaves. In a way, he goes back in time to the one thing he was good at, by going to see his old basketball coach and after staying there for one night, the coach takes him out to meet two women – who turns out to be prostitutes.
This doesn’t prevent Rabbit from hooking up with one of them and going to live with her. Besides basketball, he is definitely good at falling in and out of love with people.
Meanwhile, his wife has gone back to live with her parents and the family has contacted a local pastor who reaches out to Rabbit and the two men strike up a friendship by going golfing together. The pastor has lost his faith but by saying the right things, he somehow manages to make Rabbit more of a believer than he himself is and the pastor tries to reconcile Rabbit and Janice.
Rabbit is not a likable character. He leaves when things get rough and leaves heart ache behind. He is 26 years old and hasn’t quite figured out what it means to be a grown man with a responsibility. But this book is not just about one man’s lack of maturity and of the ability to become who he is supposed to be. He might be an example of what happens with (American) boys and men who have all of their identity given to them through the sports they play – and who are lost when they are no longer able to play, for whatever reason. It’s also a book about what happens with families where one person is the black sheep and what hurt this causes the rest of the family. And this might be true of both Harry and Janice.
I’m not quite sure why I didn’t like the book more. When I read, I sort of start out with a neutral attitude towards the book I’m reading and this book just never really did anything to either impress me or annoy me. It just stayed neutral. There are passages which are amazing. There’s a shocking scene towards the end which is so well written. It feels so frantic and desperate and it’s just perfect. Also, and this might sound strange, but the way Updike writes about a new mother’s breasts and the milk leaking from them and soaking her clothes, is just so spot on. He has definitely been paying attention when he and his wife had children. He pays a lot of attention to details but not so much that it ruins the book, rather just enough to give it a flavor that both makes the characters and (at least part of) the 60s come alive.
I have not given up on this series because I think it has a lot of potential as a image of days gone by. The scenes in the hospital where Janice has her baby and Rabbit is not allowed to see the baby before the next day because visiting hours are over, is so telling of how it was before. Or how he can get annoyed by the way his wife pours the milk on his cereal because he has gotten used to pouring his own milk – well, just do it then! Things certainly has changed and as I understand it, the books are set ten year apart and I find the idea of this, the whole project, very fascinating. I’m just questioning the execution.
First line: Boys are plaing basketball arund a telephone pole with a backboard bolted to it.
Title: Rabbit Run (The Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom series #1)
Author: John Updike
Publisher: Andre Deutsch
Year: 1972 (original 1961)
Pages: 309 pages
Source: Rented from the library
Stars: 3 stars out of 5
I read this one for the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list and because I had a goal to explore John Updike a bit this year.
So this week the Top Ten theme is Top Ten Series you want to start reading but for some reason haven’t got around to yet. I thought this would be piece of cake but it turns out that I have read the first book of a lot of series – without reading any further. So such a Top Ten would have been easier. Especially because – we already did that one. Back in September: Top Ten Series I Haven’t Finished. And I actually made a bonus list back then of 4 series, I hadn’t started yet – so that did make this post a bit easier, well, not so hard. And then I looked a bit closer at my book shelves and well, turned out it was rather easy to put this Top Ten together.
As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. There’s about a billion participants each week so go check out some of the many others if you are keen to find a new series to read.
I already own at least parts of the first 7 series mentioned below so really, I have no excuse for not starting to read them sometime soon!
George R.R. Martin: A Song of Ice and Fire. Do I really have to explain myself here? Maybe rather try to explain why I, a self-proclaimed fantasy lover, haven’t read this one yet? Or watched the tv series? Well, I have no explanation and now, I own all the published books of this so I hope to get around to at least start reading it sometime this year.
Robin Hobb: The Farseer Trilogy. This is about a boy and his dog, roughly put. I have been told that it will make me cry. Not just a little bit, but full on ugly cry. That’s why I have put it off. But I have also been told that I will absolutely love this story of the bond between human and animals – so we’ll see which one will win out. Maybe it will be both!
Patrick Rothfuss: The Kingkiller Chronicle. I’m trying to wait with this one until the final one in the trilogy has been published. I have been told that it has quite a bit of cliff hangers and that it’s insanely good so I’m really trying to not read it before they are all out. It’s the story of a powerful wizard, how he became to be so powerful and how he ended up a fugitive.
Ken Follett: The Century Trilogy. Whatever I have forgotten or never known about 20th century history, politics etc, I expect to learn from reading this novel. I really enjoyed The Pillars of the Earth, so I expect to enjoy this one quite a bit – especially because I find the 20th century of more interest than the building of a cathedral in the Middle Ages… – even if that turned out to be rather exciting!
Deborah Harkness: All Souls Trilogy. This is supposed to be the intellectual’s Twilight. I like Vampires (Buffy, anyone?) but I have no intention of reading Twilight, ever! So this book about a young woman, a witch I think, who stumbles upon a bewitched manuscript which unleashes hordes of vampires, demons and witches, sounds right up my alley. I have heard both good and bad about this one so not sure if it will be a good read but I’m definitely going to give it a go!
Jasper Fforde: Shades of Grey. I have the first one of this trilogy – and it’s the only one published so far and the next one is not due out before 2015. So I have no guilt about not having started this one yet. Only thing is – I really want to read it soon because it sounds so cool. A society where your social status is determined by your ability to see colors? Fascinating!
Neal Stephenson: The Baroque Cycle. I own Quicksilver, the first one of this trilogy of huge books. It’s historical fiction, it’s about philosophy, religion and history and I don’t know what’s not a part of this book. I think it’s a very demanding book and that’s probably why I have put it off. But I want to give it a go – I think it will be a rewarding, though difficult, read.
Margaret Atwood: Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, Maddaddam: I don’t know if this series has a name. But it doesn’t really matter, does it? I just want to read these – in part, because I want to explore Atwood some more since the two novels I have read by her (Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale) have been really good, but also because Oryx and Crake is another post-apocalyptic tale from Atwood, this time about possibly the last human – and it just sounds really interesting.
John Updike: The Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom series. I just wrote about this one the other day when I rented the first one at the library. I’ve been wanting to read this for years! You just keep hearing about this one! It’s supposed to be so good and Updike is supposed to be one of the best contemporary (although now dead) American authors. I have only read one of his novels, Terrorist, so I really have not much of an impression of Updike. He is another author I want to explore so really, it’s about time I get around to the Rabbit books.
Jacqueline Carey: Phèdre’s Trilogy. This erotic fantasy about a young woman, part spy and part courtesan, is supposed to be really, really good. I have been hearing about it for years but am yet to buy and read it. I almost bought it last time I was in Paris and saw that W.H. Smith at Place du Concorde had the entire trilogy – but I ended up not buying it because I thought it would be easy enough to get it later and I had already picked out way too many books… I will read this one at some point!
Quite a bit of fantasy on my list, I think. It’s great because I love fantasy – I just don’t feel I have the time to commit to reading three books (or more!) in a row (which is silly since I can easily enough commit to reading huge, difficult books that take way more time than reading a fantasy trilogy). Anyway, I hope the making of this list will make me remember, that I actually really want to read these books!