Rabbit, Still Running

Or more accurately, I am still reading John Updike’s Rabbit, Run. I had a short break away from home and forgot to take the book; also, I am a sunshine reader and as it is October there is less of it and I do not get outside to sit and read as much as I can and do in the summer. Yesterday and today there has been fine morning sunshine and I was back to reading the book on my front lawn, a table set for coffee too, but the afternoon sun sets behind ridiculously tall conifers at the back garden by about 3pm. Therefore, I am taking a long time to read this novel.

A few observations for this reader’s dairy today: my internal jury is wobbling on a verdict about Updike’s skills as a writer, as magnificent as they clearly are. As previously commented, his wordiness is astonishing and usually brilliant, but the sheer relentlessness of it can be wearing and even distracting – one wants to move on from some seemingly excessive elaboration to the advancement of the storyline. There’s also the personal liking I have for the American narrative voice which is simple and direct and devoid of the literary flourishes – I mean in the modern sense – and Updike is not a member of this fraternal style.

But I do nonetheless get blown away at times by the intensity of his observations and their many insights. Before providing an example of this, I will comment on an aspect of the book’s exploration of sexuality, specifically that of Rabbit and Ruth, and an apparent macho embrace of this, no doubt very much a product of its time, written in 1960. Like so much I think and then write about at the moment, this observation is prompted by the contemporary ‘locker-room’ talk of Donald Trump whose crude misogynist language and actions is dominating the current presidential election campaigning.  Updike doesn’t  engage in similar, though there are times when he is sneaking around in the corridor outside, and one long narrative that does reflect from Ruth’s point of view a female control of sexual discovery as a teenager is still steeped in the male world of this.

A short extract I want to illustrate now is a wonderful authorial insight into the behaviour of children, in this case two brothers who are arguing and fighting. Updike, through his character the preacher Eccles, understands so well the pain of a child’s defeat – a child who has suffered the propulsive power of a wrong – and also, at the end of the extract, how quickly this is resolved:

rab-still-run

I like the humour in the closing observation about Nelson’s quick ‘recovery’ from being hit on the head by the toy truck, and also how Eccles sitting in his insubstantial lawn chair is personally affected by the universal readjustment of this whole episode. This is clever without being superfluous in the telling. Time after time Updike provides these seemingly insignificant views, but they always bristle with knowing.

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