Monday, December 13, 2010

ninety-two

Rabbit, Run

Harry Angstrom is socially retarded. And no, Sarah Palin, I'm not using that in a pejorative fashion. I'm using it in the strict definition of "late" - Rabbit has not developed any sense of what it's like for other people to exist around him. Or that they can hear him. He relies on his natural gifts - physical prowess on the basketball court - until they no longer serve him. (By the by, it's never explained why he doesn't take this amazing talent to college as most spectacularly talented U.S. high schoolers do.)

At that point - spoiler alert though not really - he marries a girl who he got pregnant but doesn't like very much. At some point, Janice becomes a drunk. There's some ambiguity over whether she's the real villain in the whole ordeal, but honestly, being married to Harry Angstrom would drive anyone to drink. He's flighty, annoying, simple-minded, unreliable, immature, and his love and care can disappear with a mean turn of phrase. He doesn't seem to understand why people react to his boneheaded declarations with disbelief. This follows him to the end of the book, as he runs away from one problem to the next.

At first I was repelled by his awful nature and didn't get the book. But then Updike's easy, thoughtful, and piercing writing took over to show me that Rabbit is like a lot of people who make up this world. Different aspects of his easy-yet-terrified personality are like me, but fortunately not enough that I can't get through a conversation without insulting someone or fleeing.

The discussions of religion were interesting, and must have caused quite a stir in the 60s - just as the scattered thoughts about sex probably riled the censors. Still, it's an amazing book about a very sad person in a sad situation, causing more sadness due to his sad social skills.

It's quite obvious that Don Draper is influenced by Harry, and Janice by Betty Draper - and it totally makes sense. Harry just can't handle real people like Don so often can. Perhaps Rabbit will be able to function as well as Don in the later books.

I really can't analyze this classic more than it already has been, but I fully understood why and how Updike is an amazing writer. Definitely recommended.

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