Thursday, February 22, 2007
Rabbit Redux is, to quote James Marshall Hendrix, "a frustratin' mess." Instead of running at the end of book one Rabbit returns to Janice and makes a go of the American Dream: bland suburban house, bland alienation from labor in a factory, an increasingly narrow-minded small-town PA conservatism. He grows fat and impotent, his wife ditches him for a Greek car salesman, and Rabbit is off to the races. Silly Rabbit, such tricks are for kids! Drugs, loose teenagers, radical blacks, pimps--what doesn't Rabbit do in a mere 350 pages? There are men on the moon, York PA suffers racial violence, Ted Kennedy drives his car off a bridge, Viet Nam and Nixon. Sometimes the novel's so current it's scary, as characters debate fighting the Viet Cong over there so we don't have to fight them over here, etc.* And yet many of the characters are embarrassing stereotypes and the action often left me incredulous.
Though "a frustratin' mess," Rabbit Redux is also magnificent. Like the country and time period it documents, Updike's book at once exceeds one's wildest dreams and seems to fall far short of an even greater potential. The perfect note, I'd say.
* "We have all been here before," to quote CSN&Y