Not only did I just finish this book, John Updike’s Rabbit at Rest, but I also just finished reading Drew’s post about it from some time ago. Both Drew and I are hurtling toward a great shake up in our lives at exactly the same time which is one of the greatest and creepiest to me coincidences in either one of and both of our lives. We are about to become fathers for the first time. Drew has been married for a lot less time than I have but, nevertheless, we both struck pay dirt in the same season which seems like the carpet of the universe was pulled out from under us at the same moment and revealed its wonky, bumbling gears grinding each to each the same set of circumstances that up until in each of our lives would have been a burden that neither one of us could have held up under, but at the exact right moment, now completely separately from each other’s plans were laid that would allow for these new additions to make and transform our lives in powerful and positive ways.
Just like the winding down of this project, all its clicks and clacks, battered on toward its own end, the river our two lives flow down coincide and diverge, and for this I am very grateful for this project and this friendship. All of this draws focus for me in this moment as I type this post, that I found solace in the ending of this specific book, not to reiterate too much of what Drew had to say, but I hated Updike’s other winner Rabbit is Rich, perhaps even more than Drew did, and I knew that, and for the great majority of this book I was right, I would hate this book also. But I don’t. I like this book. I don’t love it, but I like it well enough. The last 50 pages of this book found a stride in writing that I found so completely enveloping that I did not want them to end although we all knew how they were going to end. The end in and of itself is some of the best, most bitterly earned, pay off you will ever find in literature which is why it is so frustrating to me.
Drew thinks that Rabbit stands for America which for almost the whole book works except the ending, unless Updike is commenting on the fact that Americans love sentimental, happy endings or at least endings that resolve. I agree that Rabbit is not the hero, he couldn’t be. I also agree that Rabbit isn’t the tragic hero, or neither the anti-hero. Rabbit is just a guy. Really, truly to me, Rabbit is just a guy that lived and died and lived a halfway interesting life, but that lived so vitally in these pages that he made you hate him just as we might hate anyone we know this intimately. That is Updike’s masterpiece in this. None of these characters are heroes which makes them perfect. They are real, these people lived and died, drew breath at every corner of these pages and they were real. Except for a few missteps on Updike’s part and his unnerving choice in characters and circumstances, he vivified these characters better than I have ever seen. What makes this so frustrating to me is that Updike erected a monument to his persistent prose, but did not create a world I wanted anything to do with.
Drew mentions some ham-fisted scenes in this book like the Japanese situation, and the Uncle Sam parade. Those felt obligatory scenes that some editor made him add or fought with him to take out, got cut up pretty bad, but pushed through to final copy only to stare Updike in the face as failures of scenes, but what makes all the difference in the world is Rabbit’s slow ramble to the end with his walks and walking shoes, his coming to face the urban youth Rabbit has derided the entire book though never met, and his reconnection with the sport of his youth, the reason for his being, the literally fading of his glory, basketball that made all of this possible in the most, what could have been excruciatingly ham-fisted, but was beautiful, starkly/blindingly/frustratingly/ and to my great relief not a giant wasting of time poignantly beautiful prose. So, first of all, John Updike, I very nearly hated you and would have spent the rest of my days ridiculing your horrific works of fiction, but the last 50 pages of the 800 I read of yours you won me over.