You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rabbit, Run

John Updike's Rabbit, Run was published in 1960. It describes a kind of aborted domestic life: Harry Angstrom (known as Rabbit from his high school basketball career) gets fed up with his pregnant wife and young son and abruptly leaves them. The first scene is symbolic of his extended or renewed adolescence when he joins some children in a street basketball game. The children look at him askance, echoing the reader's dubiousness over his behavior.

Rabbit leaves the apartment he shares with his wife Janice and picks up his car. But instead of taking his son home he gets in his car and starts driving. He drives south from his Pennsylvania town keeps driving until the early morning hours. He finally gives up on his adventure and returns to town. He finds his old coach Tothero and sleeps in his room for the day, then the two of them go out to meet Tothero's female friend and a younger female friend. Tothero is a strong father figure to Rabbit, and looms larger than his own father.

Harry starts a romance with the younger friend, Ruth. He doesn't mind that she makes a living through prostitution, and she quickly takes him in and lets him live with her. Harry has basically no contact with his wife and family except through Jack Eccles, an Episcopal priest. Eccles pushes Harry to reconcile with his wife, though he is pretty much the only person who wants to see them together again. Even while Harry lives with Ruth he is aware of Eccles' church across the street. He selfishly abandons his old life with Janice. Eccles' conversations with him only seem to boost his confidence that he is doing the right thing.

When Eccles calls one night to tell Harry that Janice is in labor, Harry dutifully leaves Ruth and goes to the hospital. Harry and Janice reconcile and enjoy their new baby, but they never discuss the fundamental problems of their relationship. They are both too immature and selfish to really be in a relationship, let alone raise children. The relationship ends in a tragedy, and Harry quickly finds himself back with Ruth, who now admits she is also pregnant. Harry is enthusiastic about her pregnancy, despite the situation with his wife. He insists that the two of them can make a life together, but the final scene has him running again, away from his responsibilities and toward selfish emptiness.

The novel centers around the personality of Harry and his relationships with Janice, Ruth, and Eccles. He cannot see anyone else's needs. While his life with Ruth focuses on sex, even when he returns to Janice he demands sex from her. Harry wants to return to his former carefree young life, not the everyday existence of being a grownup. To him, Eccles is just another authority figure who wants him to constrain himself. Eccles is earnest but barely capable. Janice is not much more mature than Harry. While she can carry a child, she cannot take care of one. She leaves most of the work to her mother. Ruth's primary virtue is that she fails to abort her pregnancy and is willing to keep the baby for Harry's sake.

There are several parallels in the story. The fatherly behavior of Eccles is contrasted with Tothero, who introduces Harry to his mistress. But even Tothero urges Harry to stay with his wife. Ruth and Janice are both poor mother figures. Harry runs between the two women, fighting between the urge to do the right thing and the fear of being trapped. Updike's language is strong and personal. Harry's struggles really come through, despite his immature and selfish actions. The novel is a touching picture of an immature person caught in an adult world. A-

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