Well. I finally have read the last book in the Rabbit quartet by Updike. You can see the post where I read Rabbit Run, the first book here. You can see the post for Rabbit Redux, the second book, here. You can see the post for Rabbit is Rich, the third book, here.
First off, for those of you here to read more of my Rabbit rantings, this might be a slightly disappointing blog post. While I was still not overly fond of Rabbit, something about him had softened so something about myself softened as well. Once that did, I was able to really, finally, appreciate why people rave about the Rabbit books. Updike is amazing in Rabbit at Rest. I’m not going to go back and try to read the others with this realization, as I don’t care to spend any more time with Rabbit Angstrom. But! I can see better now the reasons.
So, this post will probably be more about Updike and his writing than my hatred for that asshole, Rabbit Angstrom.
Each Rabbit book takes place approximately a decade after the last one. So, this one is taking place in the 1988/1989 realm. Updike does an amazing job of not only capturing Rabbit’s life in here but the life of the nation and the world. AIDS was becoming a big scare at this point in history, and references to it are all around.
“Why is his nose always running? Harry has read somewhere, maybe People on the death of Rock Hudson, that that’s one of the first signs of AIDS.”
“Being so close to, you know, the barn. The reason I ask, I had a touch of heart trouble down in Florida and still can’t get used to it, how close I came. I mean, most of the time it seems unreal, I’m me, and all around me everything is piddling along as normal, and then suddenly at night, when I wake up needing to take a leak, or in the middle of a TV show that’s sillier than hell, it hits me, and wow. The bottom falls right out. I want to crawl back into my parents but they’re dead already.”
Lyle’s puffy lips tremble, or seem to, as he puzzles out this new turn the conversation has taken. “You come to terms with it,” he says. “Everybody dies.”
“But some sooner than others, huh?”
A spasm of indignation animates Lyle. “They’re developing new drugs. All the time. The French. The Chinese. Trichosanthin, TIBO derivatives. Eventually the FDA will have to let them in, even if they are a bunch of Reaganite fascist homophobes who wouldn’t mind seeing us all dead. It’s a question of hanging on. I have hope.”
(a conversation between him and his son’s accountant at the car lot, who is dying of AIDS).
You can almost read this like a historical account of the late 80s. Updike, through Rabbit, gives us a lens on exactly what was happening during this time. Fashion trends, like the shoulder pads for women, tv shows (his granddaughter is a constant channel surfer) including how he hates Roseanne, historical events even if they happened a few years before the time frame of the book (Rabbit muses on the Challenger accident at some point).
I actually found this book compelling and very readable.
However! Do not be fooled into thinking that Rabbit has redeemed himself. He still thinks of Janice, his wife as “that mutt”, he is still hypercritical of his son Nelson. He breaks things off with a woman he’s had an affair with for years, who later dies and can’t even fake to her husband that he loved her. He sleeps with his daughter in law, Nelson’s wife. His casual racism is always right there, in the open.
But, age has softened him and made him too tired to be truly offensive. He’s more concerned now with where his next processed food fix is coming from than whether he wants to have sex with that woman or that one. When he does have a stirring of desire, it’s now like it’s almost observations made from habit with no real desire behind them.
Then, he has a heart attack. So, he gets treated for it and is going along, still stuffing his face with fatty foods and drinking beers.
Then, he finally starts taking care of himself. By this point, he has finally done what he started to do in book 1. He has run away from his family. Not completely, as he has run away to the Florida condo that they winter at and has told them where he has gone. But for him, it was the first time he got that far, in 40 years.
Then, well, there are regrets all around. Except on Rabbit’s part.
Try reading the first one, if you can get past Rabbit’s asshole status in that one, then maybe you can stick it out to this one and end the series with the best book of the quartet in my opinion.