Rabbit at Rest (Rabbit Angstrom, #4) By John Updike

    Winner of the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In John Updike's fourth and final novel about ex-basketball player Harry Rabbit Angstrom, the hero has acquired heart trouble, a Florida condo, and a second grandchild. His son and daughter-in-law are acting erratically, his wife Janice wants to work, and Rabbit is searching his soul, looking for reasons to live. Rabbit at Rest (Rabbit Angstrom, #4)

    Summary Rabbit at Rest (Rabbit Angstrom, #4)

    While the average person may have been conducting online searches for holiday recipes this week, I was doing my own Google search. . .which type of cigarettes did John Updike smoke? (My poor, poor children. No Waldorf salad or candied yams for you).

    That query provided me with information that I already knew, that Mr. Updike died from lung cancer, as a result of his nasty smoking habit, but my actual question wasn't answered.

    Which kind of cigarettes did he smoke??

    Do you know?

    I don't. But I want to know. And I think about it. . . an unnatural amount. Almost every photo ever taken of John Updike features a burning cigarette drooping casually from his mouth or held loosely between his two fingers.

    And, though I loathe cigarette smoking, I find myself thinking of that mischievous smile and that stupid cigarette hanging from his mouth, and the next thing you know, I'm Olivia Newton-John in Grease, pulling that damn thing slowly from his mouth, throwing it to the ground to crush under my black heel, and whispering (real close like to his face), “Tell me about it, stud.” What follows from there is none of your damn business.


    This is my kind of review. My way of informing you that I've read more John Updike than, say, 98% of the population, and, though I am not an “Updike expert,” I've gone so far as to having elaborate couch fantasies with him as well.

    And, having inappropriately written all of that, I want you to know that you can trust me when I suggest to you that you ABSOLUTELY SHOULD read the Rabbit series (his most famous work), but just quit at Rabbit #3, Rabbit is Rich and call it a day.

    Despite what Rabbit himself advises his grandson, Roy, in this book, when little Roy explains that he left the movie theatre early because the Dumbo movie had upset him: “If you don't stay to the end the sadness sticks with you, I respectfully disagree. It wasn't worth it to stay to the end. The ended sucked. This novel was an overly wordy, overly written, tiresome slog. Rabbit and John should have both quit while they were ahead.

    But, don't worry, John. This one may not have worked for me, but I've got a bad case of the feels for you. I've got a hard stack of your work, hovering close to my bed, waiting for my attention.

    Was it Pall Malls? Marlboros? 608 XXXXXXX 608 Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom.
    A product of his place and time in history: a white American male, born a few years before WW2 and making his way through the four decades following it. The years his country largely left its mark over the better part of the world in all the direct and indirect ways such a thing is possible.
    No wonder he keeps acting throughout his life, and the four books that depict it in brilliant (and at times excruciatingly detailed) prose, as a trusting and entitled child, confident that the general scheme of things will protect, provide and find a way to make him happy. If only he keeps playing by the rules he was taught early on.

    Harry understands rules; his class, his upbringing, his religion, his brief but memorable career as the star player of his high school basketball team have molded him in doing so. He also feels it’s his prerogative to break them every now and then, as long as he keeps to “his slot in the big picture, his assigned place in the rat race.” Life is a jar full of candy for Harry and he dips his hand into it, confident that even if he grabs the sour one at one time or another, he will somehow be compensated in his next forage. Even if he never comes across the best flavor he will be happy with what he got, as long as the jar keeps filling itself without too much hassle on his part.

    He is not a spectacular character living a spectacular life. He’s simply “trying to live while he’s still alive” – and not always with the best of results. He gets his fair share of success and misfortune, good times and bad times, affection and contempt, excitement and staleness. He gives back, in equal measures of fairness and unfairness, joy and pain, not always to those who deserve them the most. Human, All Too Human…

    He has always wanted to be “every woman’s only man, as he was his mother’s only son.” He never succeeds with that. He is averse to change because “he was reared in a world where war was no strange but change was: the world stood still so you could grow up in it.” He doesn’t take kindly to the “modern” collective practice of “talking through and processing therapists like to do” because it “cheapens the world’s facts; it reduces decisions that were the best people could do at the time to dream moves, to reflexes that have been ‘processed’ in a million previous cases like so much shredded wheat.” That said, he possesses a fairly good critical eye and mind to all that’s going on around him – if only he had more use of it in his real life instead of only in his head…

    “There was a time, when he was younger, when the thought of any change, even a disaster, gladdened his heart with the possibility of a shake-up, of his world made new.” Well, disasters happened alright, but he never gathered up the courage to make a bold move, to get out of his town, his life, his set ways. All those things that ultimately make him feel secure and moderately content. In this he has made a fundamental choice, consciously or not, and who can blame him? He’s no different from millions of people out there who do just the same, provided they have the choice.

    It is an attestation to Updike’s incomparable writing skill that he picks up this ordinary guy and uses his plainness as the canvas on which to paint an engaging picture of middle-class American life, complete with all its 20th century’s props and scenery. He wrote a Rabbit book every decade. In the first it’s the 1950s with their suffocating adherence to form and order. The second moves on to the 1960s and their subversive air of social unrest that mildly brushes against Harry’s Middletown- USA-existence. The 1970s do offer him an outlet and enough of a payback with their suburban promiscuity and his moving-up on the social ladder, his country club, his Caribbean vacation et all.

    But in this last book of the series, taking place in an abundantly materialistic world that changes faster than Harry feels comfortable with, the 1980s don’t find him in the best of shape both in body and spirit. His once-strong body suffers from a weak heart that he stubbornly refuses to mend by abandoning his unhealthy habits that years of mindless consumerism have built up. His spirit suffers from the ordinary affliction of a mid-life crisis that, for all his aversion towards introspection, doesn’t seem to avoid.

    I’m not sure if this one would sufficiently appeal to someone who hasn’t read the other books. It got the 1991 Pulitzer, as did the previous one, Rabbit Is Rich, in 1982. I liked that one the most but I find Updike’s prose sensational in all four of them. Rabbit grew on me, book after book, and that certainly helped in appreciating the less-exciting parts of these decidedly big narrations. Sometimes I felt there was too much dragging until the next perfect sentence, scene and dialogue that jolted me and did manage to stay on after the story was finished.

    I liked Rabbit. Both as a character and as a narrative. He exasperated me at times but no more than the people in my life do - or myself, for that matter. At times I looked at him from above, sharing his author’s mocking gaze; at times I felt the same affection Updike has in store for his hero’s childlike need for recognition because, after all “…that’s what we all want from each other.”
    I grew a bit tired of him in the end, as I suspect Updike did; maybe that’s why he gave him a premature death in his 50s. No spoiler here, the title speaks for itself. The End brought a pang of sadness, an unsettling awareness of loss. Same as the news of the passing of someone who wasn’t really part of our lives, yet they occupied a place, however small, in it. We take a few minutes to digest it and then move on with the rest of our day, the rest of our books.

    With four very American novels, Updike paid tribute to the ordinariness of life. Not only that of his hero but to all the human lives the world is full of, has been from the dawn of time and (hopefully) will be long after we’ve followed in Rabbit’s and its creator’s footsteps. 608 This last book in the Harry Angstrom cycle by Updike looks at the end of Rabbit's life and disillusionment at the end of the 80s. It is worthy of the Pulitzer it garnered (Updike's second after the equally superb Rabbit is Rich). Suffice it to say that there is the same set of characters which we know from the previous books and a nice circular return at the very end. An essential read for understanding America on the eve of the 90s.

    It is an excellent book which explores the themes of aging and death as well as fatherhood in that intimate prose which only Updike knew how to write. 608 According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2017 was year of the Rooster, but for ME, it was year of Rabbit. This year, I discovered with great glee, the brilliance of John Updike, and I've hopped through the four books he wrote about the guy we all love to hate (or hate to love), Rabbit Angstrom.

    I'm bidding goodbye to this flawed horndog, with misty eyes. Somehow, from the beginning, despite his reprehensible, often misogynistic ways (and his overuse of the C word), I liked the bastard. From his family-fleeing 50's, his communal 60's, his swinging 70's, to now... Rabbit in the 80's.

    We're in 1989 - the end of the Reagan era, when Bill Cosby is still a role model to many, Cabbage Patch kids are the rage, Melanie Griffiths stars in Working Girl, women have shoulder pads in every article of clothing, you get the picture. Oh, and there's AIDS and piles of cocaine too.

    He's 56 going on 90. He's got a bum ticker, and for the whole book, we are painfully aware of each constriction, each suffocating breath. It's clear this guy's claim on life is tenuous. I for one was begging him to stop, for the love of god, eating dry-roasted cashews, but he wouldn't listen. You wouldn't think that with plaque-filled ventricles he'd be able to misbehave as he has in other books. But, don't worry, he does as never before.

    He's spending half the year in Florida with Janice, chasing the perfect golf swing. Meanwhile, Nelson (the most dislikable, annoying character I can remember reading, EVER) is growing his rat-tail and sniffing up the profits at Springer Motors like a good son.

    Rabbit is comfortable, but only medium-happy at best. With age, it is hard to say that he has acquired wisdom, though his internal monologues still boast his insightful commentary and observations.

    I loved being back in the Angstrom family's world, as dysfunctional as it is. This book, focusing on mortality, has many excellent parts, my favourite being a perilous scene on the ocean with Rabbit and his granddaughter. However, I felt that many parts were really rambling and repetitive. I could have done without much of the roadside commentary every single time he got in a car, or the very, very detailed recollections of Brewer in its hey day.

    The other thing that has stuck in my craw is the unbelievability of one of the main plot points in this book, which I'll have to discuss under a spoiler tag for obvious reasons.

    The book and series end in a heartbreakingly perfect denouement, our hero coming full circle. I am so sad to witness Rabbit's never-ending human struggle. I want him to succeed; I want him to be happy; I want him to figure it all out; I want him to have great sex. I want him to find the same freedom as he did on the basketball court in high school, so that he doesn't have to look back so far to find a time where he felt optimism. Though, it's through the everyday tragedy of Rabbit's life that we can see our own, and maybe that's where the redemption lies.

    We are each of us like our little blue planet, hung in black space, upheld by nothing but our mutual reassurances, our loving lies. 608


    – Che cosa vedi? – Una specie di vermiciattolo agitato, che non si ferma mai. – È la vita, –

    Se hai già letto i primi tre libri della saga di Coniglio (*1), Updike sembra sussurrarti: “rilassati ci penso io”. Tu sai che puoi fidarti, non devi aver fretta, devi invece controllare bene nelle pieghe delle sue frasi più amare, perché lì son nascoste le verità che molti cercano e che poi non son disposti ad accettare.
    Updike gode dell’apprezzamento di buona parte dei suoi colleghi scrittori, è in grado di riprodurre il flusso dei pensieri del suo personaggio come se usasse una GoPro mentale. La descrizione giunge ad un livello più elevato e diventa simbolo interiore, associazione di pensieri. Avviene con naturalezza e in modo ricorrente, viene spontaneo pensare a quegli scrittori che per una veronica riuscita si applaudono da soli, qui siamo al cospetto di uno scrittore che non tiene conto del concetto di straordinario.
    Il punto del romanzo che ho apprezzato maggiormente è stato intorno a pag. 250, dopo una tornitura magistrale ho immaginato Updike alzarsi soddisfatto dalla sedia come se l’esperienza descritta l’avesse vissuta davvero. Lui non racconta di un uomo che invecchia, lui è quell’uomo è dentro quel personaggio e ormai, alla fine della saga, vi ha trascinato anche me. Il finale della seconda parte del libro è un po’ strascicato, la terza ha il torto di avere un titolo che è uno spoiler inammissibile (il titolo corretto sarebbe stato Pennsylvania/Florida), nonostante ciò, conduce ad un punto di svolta inaspettato.

    (Così nei miei appunti)
    Sono all’80% c’è stata una svolta, purtroppo il titolo della terza parte è troppo esplicativo, è un’anticipazione imperdonabile; non mi lasciare vecchio bastardo, tienimi compagnia almeno fin quando non tornerò a lavoro, ma anche i giorni successivi, quando mi sveglierò presto, o andrò a letto senza riuscire a prendere sonno. Coniglio sei un irresponsabile, un traditore, un sessuomane, hai fallito come genitore, come marito, come amante.. ma cazzo, chi ti ha inventato era un grande scrittore.

    Questo e il libro precedente sono i migliori della saga, non posso garantire che vi piaceranno, posso solo dirvi che sarei felice di non averli ancora letti, di poterli leggere io al posto di chiunque non li apprezzerà.

    Per quanti non temono lo spoiler, qui ci sono le impressioni di Julian Barnes

    Colonna sonora:
    Vaya Con Dios - (1952 cover) - Les Paul and Mary Ford

    Louis Prima Just A Gigolo I Ain't Got Nobody

    Rabbit, Run (Corri, Coniglio, 1960)

    Rabbit Redux (Il ritorno di Coniglio, 1971)

    Rabbit is Rich (Sei ricco, Coniglio, 1981)

    Rabbit At Rest (Riposa Coniglio, 1990) 608 Q: Where oh where will Rabbit go to rest? Where will it all--all four decades worth of this, an all American life--culminate-- and how?

    A: In Florida; and boringly.

    This is a tremendously slow trek through Harry Angstrom’s last year and we see the guy eat himself to death and burn bridges with family and friends. (Eh… what’s new?) The sick sad life of the American Male: the fourth novel is overkill; while it's perfectly nice to revisit some of Rabbit’s highlights and (mostly) low-lights, how o how can a life be reduced to American history merged so neatly with a deep and personal human experience? It doesn’t work, this attempt to encapsulate life, to show how America is as much a part of it as family is…

    I have only one idea as to why the tetralogy is so lauded today (and when each individual novel was first published): DAMN GOOD prose. 608 I dreaded reading this book and I have to admit that it took me two weeks to get through the last 50 pages. I miss Harry Angstrom not as if a dear friend has died, but as if I have died myself and yet somehow remain around to mourn my own loss. What's odd is that I didn't really like Rabbit. I did understand him though, in a way that I've never understood anyone aside from myself. That, to me, is Updike's true gift: chipping away to an unvarnished life to expose the raw emotion and thought upon which we pile layer after layer of the every day. I'm having a difficult time not going back and re-reading the Rabbit series again. Right now. the only thing that stops me is the hope that I'll find another book that will touch me as deeply. 608 Updike's Rabbit series is, quite simply, some of the best literature I have ever read, and this last book in the series is the best yet.

    Throughout, Harry Rabbit Angstrom has been a pretty reprehensible character and he still maintains those chops in this book. He is the unchallenged all-time champion of jerks, but here, even Rabbit sinks to new lows. The things he does are enough to make the reader thoroughly despise him. And yet...

    He is so completely and utterly human. It wasn't his ambition to be a jerk. He wanted to be the hero of his life story, but his selfish and needy personality wouldn't let him. He was a user from beginning to end. He used others - especially women - to prop up his self esteem. To ease his pain.

    And yet, what is the source of all this pain? A dead daughter? A truly awful mother? The loss of the only thing he truly loved - basketball? It is hard to be specific. Throughout the books, the losses mount up as the people in his life tend to die early or else find a way to escape the maelstrom that is Harry. Meantime, Harry sinks further and further into despair, dragging all those around him with him.

    The latter parts of this book where Harry is alone and in interior conversation with himself remind me of nothing so much as the last luminous chapter of Ulysses, Molly's soliloquoy. Rabbit's soliloquoy is more rambling, but no less heart-felt. Heart, felt being the operative words here.

    I feel that I've spent all this time with a character that I didn't really like and yet, at the end, I felt empathy for him. I thought of all the mistakes I have made in my life, all the people I've hurt and disappointed, and I thought, Who am I to judge Rabbit? For in so many ways, I am Rabbit. 608 Eat a balanced diet. Exercise regularly. Avoid excessive drinking. Don't fuck your daughter-in-law. Lot of good life-style advice in this book... 608