CBR14Bingo – Body
Rabbit is Rich – 4/5 Stars
All the Rabbit novels are squarely about two main things: the lives that bodies live and the eclipsing of the white man (according to the white man himself) in American society. In this third novel, which I find to be the most unpleasant of the four (and all are at least mildly unpleasant), Rabbit is around 45 and he’s been working as the manager and head salesman at his now-dead father in law’s car dealership. It had been a used car lot, but has grown into the premier Toyota dealership in the area, still Brewer, PA, a small town in the exurbs of Philadelphia. At 45, Rabbit feels at least a little settled, but he’s been putting on weight and is beginning to worry about not his health yet, but about losing his vitality. He and his wife Janice are still together, neither having left the other in the mutual absence that plays out in the second book. Rabbit has joined a country club and taken up golf, while Janice has taken up tennis. Their son Nelson is close to graduating from Kent State, where among other things we learn about him, doesn’t find it alarming or upsetting that four students were killed by the National Guard. Of course, we find ourselves with a calm awaiting a conflict.
The conflict arrives when Nelson comes home telling them that he has dropped out of college. He has brought along a young woman he swears is not a girlfriend to live in their house while he sorts things out. This creates tension in the house as Rabbit and Janice are already living with Janice’s mother, who has never forgiven Rabbit for running out in the first novel. It becomes very clear from the outset that this will be used against Rabbit, who manages, but does not own the dealership. Tensions further rise as Nelson, who is still very angry about his childhood borrows and then damages both his mother and father’s cars, and when he insists on not returning to school, begins working at the dealership, where he uses his frantic energies and insecurity to immediately make some bad financial choices.
The novel’s culmination comes into the fore as Harry and Janice along with the golf partners and their wives go on a vacation, where among other things, the wives conspire to do a little swapping, in classic Updike fashion.
Because this is about the loss of vitality and Rabbit’s anxieties therein, the worst impulses of both Rabbit and Updike are in full display. Call it a crisis of confidence, as this takes place in the final year of the Carter administration.
Rabbit at Rest – 5/5 Stars
The final Rabbit novel, and I think the best. The writing in this one is just by far the strongest and most assured. Rabbit is 55 and semi-retired to Florida where he and Janice live in an over 50 community half the year. Rabbit has become obsessed with food, as the one thing he’s not allowed to indulge in anymore. Maybe it’s the American in him, and maybe it’s the basketball, where committing fouls is allowed and even strategic at times. But anyway, he’s steadily been gaining weight (and it’s funny to hear the numbers because a 6’3″, 230 pound 55 year old American man just doesn’t strike a sense of size and loss of control than it must have 1990 when the novel was written). Anyway, the novel begins with a visit from Nelson and his wife, and their two children: Judy at 9, and Henry at 4. Rabbit has long had an obsession with daughter-figures. In book one, Janice accidentally drowns their infant daughter in the bath while Rabbit was away with a mistress (and also she was drunk) and while Rabbit has always blamed Janice, everyone else has blamed Rabbit. So the grand-daughter is one such daughter stand-in, and so in Prudence, his daughter in law. In addition, Rabbit has been convinced since book 2 that the woman he ran to in Rabbit, Run also gave birth to a girl, presumably he thinks, his. The vacation is tense, as his relationship to Nelson is quite strained, but also, it becomes apparently because of Nelson’s financial troubles, his constantly running nose, and nervous energy. It’s 1988 and I will let you do the math. This first part of the novel ends with Rabbit taking his grand-daughter off in a small sail boat, it’s topping over, and Rabbit, in rescuing his grand-daughter, having a heart attack.
The second half of the novel circulates around Rabbit’s inconsistent health, a long history of tensions between Rabbit and those in his life, and dealing with the fallout of Nelson’s recklessness with the dealership and its finances. When something big happens, Rabbit ends up driving back to Florida alone, and that’s where we leave him.
Rabbit Remembered – 4/5 Stars
The title of this book is a little ironic as Rabbit does not directly appear, and by the time this novel begins, he’s been dead almost a decade. We begin the whole novel with a big clue when Janice is referred to by her new married name “Janice Harrison” which tells us that she has remarried Ronnie Harrison, Rabbit’s old high school frenemy, and husband to Rabbit’s long-term affair. This is the day that Rabbit’s long rumored daughter, courtesy of the affair in Rabbit, Run, shows up at Janice’s door and announces herself, not really because of Janice, but because of Nelson, Janice and Rabbit’s son and Annabelle’s half-brother. This sets off a number of interactions and scenes that play out throughout this follow up short sequel. The most important element of all this is that for the first time in four long novels (almost 1500 pages total), Rabbit’s brain is switched off, and we finally learn what others are thinking about. It turns out that they all had consciousnesses all along, and we, and certainly Rabbit, had no idea.
Licks of Love – 3/5
A late story collection of Updike’s where Rabbit Remembered first appeared, but also containing several other late stories. These are stories that are very similar to the early stories, including rehashing some old ideas and plots, but with new consciousnesses and sentiments in both the writer and the characters.