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Rabbit At Rest Hardcover – September 26, 1990
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It's 1989, and Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom feels anything but restful. In fact he's frozen, incapacitated by his fear of death--and in the final year of the Reagan era, he's right to be afraid. His 55-year-old body, swollen with beer and munchies and racked with chest pains, wears its bulk "like a set of blankets the decades have brought one by one." He suspects that his son Nelson, who's recently taken over the family car dealership, is embezzling money to support a cocaine habit.
Indeed, from Rabbit's vantage point--which alternates between a winter condo in Florida and the ancestral digs in Pennsylvania, not to mention a detour to an intensive care unit--decay is overtaking the entire world. The budget deficit is destroying America, his accountant is dying of AIDS, and a terrorist bomb has just destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 above Lockerbie, Scotland. This last incident, with its rapid transit from life to death, hits Rabbit particularly hard:
Imagine sitting there in your seat being lulled by the hum of the big Rolls-Royce engines and the stewardesses bring the clinking drinks caddy... and then with a roar and giant ripping noise and scattered screams this whole cozy world dropping away and nothing under you but black space and your chest squeezed by the terrible unbreathable cold, that cold you can scarcely believe is there but that you sometimes actually feel still packed into the suitcases, stored in the unpressurized hold, when you unpack your clothes, the dirty underwear and beach towels with the merciless chill of death from outer space still in them.Marching through the decades, John Updike's first three Rabbit novels--Rabbit, Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), and Rabbit Is Rich (1981)--dissect middle-class America in all its dysfunctional glory. Rabbit at Rest (1990), the final installment and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, continues this brilliant dissection. Yet it also develops Rabbit's character more fully as he grapples with an uncertain future and the consequences of his past. At one point, for example, he's taken his granddaughter Judy for a sailing expedition when his first heart attack strikes. Rabbit gamely navigates the tiny craft to shore--and then, lying on the beach, feels a paradoxical relief at having both saved his beloved Judy and meeting his own death. (He doesn't, not yet.) Meanwhile, this all-American dad feels responsible for his son's full-blown drug addiction but incapable of helping him. (Ironically, it's Rabbit's wife Janice, the "poor dumb mutt," who marches Nelson into rehab.)
His misplaced sense of responsibility--plus his crude sexual urges and racial slurs--can make Rabbit seems less than lovable. Still, there's something utterly heroic about his character. When the end comes, after all, it's the Angstrom family that refuses to accept the reality of Rabbit's mortality. Only Updike's irreplaceable mouthpiece rises to the occasion, delivering a stoical, one-word valediction: "Enough." --Rob McDonald --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, morbidly depressed, overweight and living with wife Janice in a Florida retirement community, recovers from a heart attack and is led astray by his libido one last time. "Updike is razor-sharp and mordantly funny," said PW. "If this novel is in some respects an elegy to Rabbit's bewildered existence, it is also a poignant, humorous, instructive guidebook to the aborted American dream." The book took a Pulitzer Prize.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Picking up the saga from 1981's "Rabbit is Rich" (a work which won Updike the 1982 Pulitzer for best fiction novel), Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a former high school basketball progeny from Brewer, Pennsylvania, has now reached 56 years of age and is ensconced in a generation that is increasingly removed from his glorious youth. All of Harry's contemporary observation or serious political/social commentary (and there are many within in which Updike chooses to covertly add his own political and/or social views) subsequently generates pages of retrospection and dissertation where he pontificates on the "current" flawed and easily viewed retrograde of a society in certain downturn.
Rebounding from the Iran-Contra scandal that sunk the last days of the Reagan administration and into the first tentative "read my lips, no tax increases" days of Bush the first, Harry seems to revel in his cynical retirement. But it is his clear discontent with his marriage, his monumental disappointment with his son and general melancholy with his perceived "legacy" that drives this work. Updike has brilliantly latched onto the major threads of middle-age depression and explores their effects on our protagonist in a remarkable literary flow. After awhile the reader realizes that through the laconic and often mirthless character of Rabbit, Updike actually presents a rather profound referendum on middle age depression and the mechanics of its source and why it lingers. He (Updike) really reveals why Rabbit appears to go through this period feeling no joy, seemingly always searching to rid himself of his and his families' burden. He oftentimes gave me the impression that if he were to just pack it in and take off, to start over elsewhere, he would be a much more content soul.
As a criticism however, and to seemingly hammer home his point, Updike, at times, goes into unduly long, several page dissertations that attempt to fully encapsulate the reader with Rabbit's ordeal. Page after agonizing page often distract from the task at hand...we sometimes become overly badgered with much more of Harry's inner reflection than we need, especially toward the end. When we're able to easily understand the point with an Updike initial dialogue, we sometimes get additional and gruelingly displaced passages of dystopian expectancy...this is without a doubt the novel's major setback in my view. Many times we're confronted with multiple pages of discourse attempting a deeper, more meaningful insight into Harry's perception when only a paragraph or two would suffice. The obvious result of this would have been a drastic reduction of the 512 pages of text and a more linear plot and sub-plotline.
All told though, with criticisms included, this work nevertheless emanates...John Updike serves the literary fiction genre very well here and stands as one of the stanchions of the last 40 years for this example of cutting edge, risk taking exposition. I myself, in my late and skewed approach to this literary giant, look forward to nevertheless reading his preceding works, becoming more familiar with Updike's overall work and, in particular, the "Rabbit" character and how he arrives at this end-point.
Rabbit at Rest finds Angstrom roughly ten years later, semi-retired and spending winters in Florida with his wife Janice while Nelson runs the family dealership.
The time frame is the late 80s, George Bush, the elder, is President, and cocaine is the drug of choice. Most of the action centers upon Rabbit's dysfunctional relationship with his son and the resulting conflict which necessarily develops between he, his wife and daughter-in-law as the prodigal son systematically destroys the family legacy. Rabbit's declining health and his relationship with his grandchildren are also story lines.
While much of the writing is entertaining and very well done, it must be noted that at times, Updike seems to fly off on wild screeds of florid, almost unintelligible prose that leave the reader simply rolling his eyes. In fact, I found this annoying trait to be far more common in this installment than in the previous three. I lost count of the number of ways Updike describes the smells and tastes of female body parts in various states of arousal.
Nevertheless, the characters contained in the story are well presented and fleshed out beautifully, even some of the more peripheral players. All in all, this is a fascinating look at life during the late 80s, from the perspective of a middle class, Pennsylvania family, though Rabbit and his circumstances can hardly be viewed as representative. In fact, each of the four installments acts as an in-depth look at American society, and taken as whole give an accurate depiction of American life and societal mores from the late 50s through 1990. As such, the series is quite instructive, immensely entertaining and for someone of my generation, quite reflective.
Even so, the ending in its ironic way had the series come full circle.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I miss him already.