Rabbit Redux by John Updike
Ten years after Rabbit, Run, Updike reacquaints us with Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom. He’s weathered the 1960s holding down a printing job and his marriage to Janice, whilst raising his son Nelson (now 13). He immediately seems more conservative and no less toxic than last time around. In a neat flip of the first book’s dynamic, Rabbit now has to come to terms with his wife vanishing and shacking up with another man. If that seems inevitable in hindsight, the rest of the plot does not.
The main disappointment here is that Updike takes much less care over his supporting characters. A rickety middle act is built on two figures who aren’t convincing at all – Jill, a runaway from a wealthy Connecticut family, and Skeeter, a drug-pushing, sermonising black Nam veteran on the lam. A background of the moon landing, Vietnam, Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick, Laugh-In, and so on deliberately roots Rabbit Redux much more precisely in time. Although Jill and Skeeter are meant to fit into this, to contain some late 60s wayward white hippiedom and black activism respectively, they ring awkwardly hollow, and only serve to expose yet more ugly sides to Rabbit’s personality. That’s a shame, as other new faces, like the slick car salesman Charlie Stavros, do jump off the page.
The constant in these novels is the precise, ultra-observant voice, and that was enough to hold my attention during the weaker sections – once Updike’s style clicks, it’s very impressive and absorbing. I might have to take a bit of a break from Rabbit, but I remain curious about where Updike takes him next – I gather Rabbit is Rich is many readers’ favourite in the sequence.