Last night I finished my first book in more than a month. Needless to say, Jeopardy has thrown off my pace a bit. My most recent selection was John Updike’s Rabbit, Run. The novel centers on Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom, a former high school basketball star turned young adult nobody. He lives with his pregnant, semi-alcoholic wife Janice and toddler son Nelson in his hometown. Feeling trapped in his mediocre life, Rabbit runs away. He eventually settles down with Ruth, a former prostitute, and befriends a local minister. This new situation lasts until Rabbit’s wife goes into labor. Rabbit returns and moves back in following the birth of his daughter. Things seem to have improved until Rabbit’s wife rebuffs his sexual advances soon after the birth and he leaves for a night. While he is gone his wife gets drunk and accidentally drowns their baby. The book ends with Rabbit running away again following the funeral of his infant daughter.
I did not like this book at first. It is a tremendously depressing portrait of a young man who realizes his life peaked in adolescence and struggles desperately to recapture his former freedom and vigor. The idea of a man walking out on his responsibilities as a husband and father with hardly a thought to the consequences infuriates me. Rabbit is a man-child, unable to act like an adult and unwilling to leave behind the memory of his high school glory days.
That was my initial impression. As I read on, I began to sympathize with Rabbit. His problem was not just an unwillingness to assume the responsibility of manhood. Instead, it was a profound sense of not belonging that plagued him everywhere except on the basketball court. The feeling follows him into his new life and only recedes following the birth of his daughter. He then seems able to define himself in parenthood, reconnecting with his son and establishing a deep loving bond with his daughter. Her tragic death severs these newborn connections and sets him adrift again. I ultimately enjoyed the book, as Updike acknowledges the feeling of disconnectedness that haunts us all at some point while giving us an acutely painful picture of the consequences that come with allowing that feeling to dominate your life. The events of Rabbit’s life are a tragic reminder that allowing selfish concerns to guide your actions can have extreme repercussions for everyone in your life.
The Current Count:
6 Read, 94 To Go