Let me start by saying, the only reason I am even giving this book a blog entry is because I have to. I just, within the last 30 to 45 seconds, finished reading John Updike’s 1982 winner, Rabbit is Rich, which I come to the computer now to face the internet and say simply, this book was not important.
There are several Pulitzer winners that Drew and I have interacted with that do not make sense out of context and our appreciation of these books suffer because of it. I think here of Buck’s The Good Earth as I believe it is the first book in a trilogy. The end of The Good Earth is a cliff-hanger that does not resolve its own story. I was a little put off by that, but the rest of the book was so enjoyable that it was easily forgivable. Two other books have won that are a part of a series, and I have not ventured to read those yet, Sinclair’s Dragon’s Teeth and Richter’s The Town. I hope that they are not as thoroughly disappointing as Updike’s middle book in his series.
The back of the paperback copy I have has excellent blurbs about it that hail it as a triumph and the like. Most times I am not taken in by such praise, but there was something very believable about these quotes and I momentarily got my hopes up for it. In addition to this, Updike seemed to me one of these American writers that any self-respecting American fan of literature would have to deal with at some point, like Sinclair Lewis or Philip Roth to name a few fellow Pulitzer-winners. There are a lot of American authors on this list, but I name these two because as of starting this project all so many years ago, I had not read these authors and now that I have I know why they have permeated the American literary consciousness. Updike, I may have found at an awkward intersection, or so I hope. I have one more book to read by him.
From this jumping off point, I would like to address the book directly. The main character is not a likable person, and so by that I felt at arm’s length the entire book. I know that is at best a personal hangup, but I just couldn’t figure out where to attach to this character. Updike’s is simultaneously a master and a bum at dialogue. There are moments when the true strained nature of Rabbit trying understand the world around him makes it almost unbearable to read any further through the frustration and clumsiness he carries around with him.
Other characters Updike is not as precise with and their dialogue really falls pretty flat, I felt. In addition to this, Rabbit is obsessed with sex to an almost caricature sort of way. I cannot imagine what it must be like in the mind of a man thusly wired. It seems like a strange and dark place for such an amicable, although oafish man. This isn’t to say that I cannot handle as much sexually explicit material as this book threw at me. I have read and thoroughly, down to my bones, enjoyed Mambo Kings and Oscar Wao which are almost raunchy at points (not that that aspect of the writing is what caused my enjoyment), but Updike does not capture it in the same way. Most of Updike’s sexually explicit writing is uncomfortable and teetering on the edge of obscene. Let me not forget to mention often gratuitous.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed portions of the book. I thought that some of the smaller conflicts in the book were well written and well developed like the conflicted stance Rabbit has with Charlie Stavros, Ruth, and Pru/Melanie. I really liked the way Updike wrote Rabbit as an awkward father figure which was heartwarming and uncomfortable at the same time.
I do not look forward to reading the final entry in this series not having read anything else, but I do not believe not reading the two preceding books is what injured my appreciation of this book. I just didn’t connect with it, and I found myself reading in a sort of detached manner because I didn’t trust Updike even up until the end which I almost never find with fiction.