2 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
December 17, 2004
Some authors offer us the "slice of life" in a novel, but with the four Rabbit books, Updike gives us the entire pie by following Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom through four decades, starting in 1959 with "Rabbit, Run" and ending in 1989 with "Rabbit at Rest", the last two in the series each winning a Pulitzer and rightfully so.
"Rabbit, Run" took me two false starts before I finally got all the way through it. It was only after reading some of Updike's other books that I was prepared for this one, because Rabbit, Run is not a very happy book, with no real redemption or epiphanies at the end like many other novels. In this one, Rabbit runs out on his pregnant wife Janice and 2-year-old son Nelson only to have an affair with another woman (Ruth), who he then gets pregnant before returning to Janice for the birth of their second child, who Janice (while drinking, perhaps "post-partem depression" is what they'd call it now) accidentally drowns. This one I think is th weakest of the series as the characters hadn't really come into their own yet and neither really had the author. Rabbit through that book always seems like a whiny jerk while Janice is a drunken slob and if things had stayed that way, I don't think we'd have four books. But it's the foundation for a lot of better things to come. (Three stars)
With "Rabbit Redux" 10 years later, Rabbit has matured and taken a job at the printing press where his father works. He and Janice have a little house in a development and are sort of treading water in a blue-collar existence. This time it's Janice who runs out on Harry and Nelson to hook up with a used car salesman named Charlie. In response, Harry takes in a runaway named Jill and her "friend" (drug dealer really) Skeeter, who tries to enlighten Rabbit on civil rights and his view of the world. As Jill sinks deeper into addiction thanks to Skeeter, Rabbit has an affair with Janice's best friend Peggy. During this, Jill and Skeeter burn down Rabbit's house with Jill being killed in the fire. Because of heart trouble, Charlie doesn't want to stay with Janice and so she and Rabbit after the fire reluctantly get back together. This second part was I think the transitional book, where Rabbit became more of a responsible adult (though still prone to selfish bouts) and someone readers could look at as a more "heroic" figure. Janice also shows more personality through this book. (Four Stars)
"Rabbit is Rich" is probably my favorite in the series. It takes place another 10 years later in 1979. Rabbit has taken over the
"Rabbit at Rest" concludes the series starting in 1988. Harry (now 56) and Janice are "snowbirds" who travel to
People have devoted whole books on the subject of what these books are "about" and what they mean to us and such. What I think is Rabbit is a classic character because he is so real, with some virtues and some vices. He is selfish, but so are Nelson and Janice and you and I. Some of the things he does are far worse than many of us will ever do, but we're all at least a little selfish. But like most of us, Rabbit is also able to make sacrifices for the greater good of his son and marriage, although reluctantly.
In the end, the Rabbit novels are a portrait of American life through four decades. Harry is not really an "Everyman" but he's the most human character I've read in a while and most of us can probably see there's a little Rabbit in all of us if we care to look. Read all four of the novels to get the complete Rabbit saga and I guarantee your perception of life will never be the same.