This is the second novel of the Rabbit Angstrom series by John Updike. I was born the year the third book came out, and the last book, plus the novella followed up 10 and 20 years later. This expansion can give a false impression that the books were always designed as a series. It may well be that that was what John Updike planned all along, but I am not certain of it. This book gives the clear impression of what he’s thinking though.
Rabbit is 36 now, and his son is about to turn 13. He’s working in a print factory laying type, and stopping work each day and grabbing a drink with his dad, who also works with him. It’s 1969, and in this first afternoon drink we learn two important things: there’s a rumor that Janet, Harry’s wife, is having a rather public affair and two, Harry has become a kind of Nixo-era rightward leaning law and order type. Or maybe he has; it’s not clear yet.
Harry also seems pretty ready to die it seems, or rather run out the clock on life. I get it, I really do, because now at 40, I know those feelings. Things are…a burden. But his wife tells him something interesting that doesn’t land at first. She says she’s ready to figure out what her actual identity is. That clearly tells us a little more about Harry’s coming journey — whether to find out the same thing about himself, or do whatever he can to avoid learning.
Harry also decides he’s going to try to figure out something about Black people, and well, he tries to, and certainly comes to some conclusions. But as the archetype he is, well, they ain’t pretty. He also ends up having his own affair with an 18 year old “flower child” he meets out and who comes to live with him for while. This also shapes the latter half of the novel as we also learn what kind of journey Harry’s on.