Monday, February 02, 2009

rabbit, run

Having learned of John Updike's recent death, and coincidentally having seen an interview with him a few weeks before, I decided that I would check out one of his books from the library.  Somehow I had managed to make it through all my Lit. courses without ever reading him which struck me as strange.  I've read loads of "literature" and many more obscure American authors than Updike.  I must have passed him in the night.

Not knowing where to start, I picked up rabbit,run, a work which many book bloggers proclaimed was one of his best. I finished it last night and had overactive dreams disturbing my sleep all night.  I'm not sure the two are related, but noted the timing.

Updike's talent lays mainly in his incredibly descriptive prose.  Each of his characters is fully formed and multi-faceted.  In a few pages he takes Janice, Rabbits wife, and suddenly elucidates her for the reader. For most of the novel she has been in the background, serving only as a reminder of what Rabbit has left behind, and the duty he has shirked, which is exactly how Rabbit thinks of her. Blind to his own selfishness and ego-centricity he has reduced her and everyone else in his life to bit actors who serve only to provide a context for him and what he feels at a particular moment.

When Updike switches perspectives and let us peer into Janice, it is the death knell for any sympathy we have for Rabbit. He so quickly crystalizes the cost that Rabbit has extracted from everyone through his actions that it's difficult to view Rabbit with any sense of redemption.

Updike's skill with words is evident and appreciable. That being said....I didn't "enjoy" the book.  I read it quickly and uninterrupted, curious to see what was happening next, and wondering where Updike was leading the reader. Maybe I'll try one more work to round out my impressions.

Updike's style of writing, while impressive, is not reflective of my tastes...which probably says more about me than it does him.  I find reading him somewhat similar to reading Faulkner; slightly depressing and unsatisfying--tales that end in nothingness and bleakness.  They both have the skill of removing any hint of happiness from their stories and smashing it to bits on an existential anvil.

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