Having gone from the often aggressive pulp noir of four Jim Thompson novellas/novels to a measured pathos in the campus fiction of John Williams’ Stoner, I am now reading the elaborate, burgeoning prose of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run.
It is my first encounter with his work, and he has the most fastidious, intense descriptive style. I am still relatively early in the story, and yet again I am enjoying this literary learning curve in coming to this famous author’s writing so late in my reading days.
You notice immediately that his describing is compulsively extravagant – though the originality keeps it from being overwrought – and in the beginning that decorative description is attached to the most commonplace things, like a reminiscence that Rabbit has of climbing telephone poles as a boy. There is sumptuous detail about all kinds of ordinariness, but as the novel progresses this grows into insights about people [characterisation] and their thoughts and feelings. But it is also much more than this: it is philosophy and psychology conveyed through layer upon layer of outer and inner observational detail.
I am at the part of the story where Rabbit is getting to know the minister/preacher Eccles, and the verbal exchanges about faith [Rabbit’s and, of course, Updike’s own] are woven into the fabric of the whole narrative, like a description of the golf course where they are having a first game together,
Down in the pagan grooves and green alleys of the course Eccles is transformed.
It is of course much more than this, but that one use of the word pagan demonstrates the crisscrossing of external and internal details. It is genuinely exciting – sometimes exhausting – to read, and one has to be willing to take on wave after wave of narrative tangents. So I’ll close this brief diary-like account of my reading and explaining about it with a longer extract from the text, this one where Rabbit is now doing some gardening work for an elderly woman Mrs Smith that Eccles has arranged for him. The move from knowing description of flowers into the world of nature and onto ‘types’ of women wearing flowers in their hair or hats is a snippet of a continuous narrative roller-coaster ride: