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on 29 December 2017
The first of a sublime quartet of novels,featuring 'Rabbit' Angstrom.If you are at all curious to know what happened in America between 1960 and 1990,then resolve to read them all this year.
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on 16 June 2017
Such an impressive book. Re-reading it I'd forgotten what a tough read, tough as in unflinching it is. The crucial "bath" scene is incredibly well written, pulsing with tension and forboding.
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on 16 May 2016
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on 8 November 2016
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on 24 October 2015
It is difficult to believe that “Rabbit, Run” (1960) was only John Updike’s second novel. From the first sentence, he, very unusually in fiction, employs the present tense but such immediacy is combined with a narrative point of view in which Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom’s views are not necessarily Updike’s and Updike’s views are not necessarily Rabbit’s. The views from these blended perspectives do not appear profound, leading the critic, Harold Bloom’s pronouncement that Updike has a major style (which became even more remarkable in the fiction to come over a long career) but a minor subject. Set against this is a view that I’ve heard expressed by readers I know and respect, and who have read the whole run of four Rabbit novels, together with one long story, “Rabbit Remembered”, that Rabbit Angstrom is one of the great American characters, especially in “Rabbit Redux”, to be set alongside Huckleberry Finn, Isobel Archer, Jay Gatsby, Augie March, and so on. Updike, in this version, tells a great story about ordinary, mostly white, lower- and sometimes middle-class Americans, and conveys the lost promise of a nation that, paradoxically, can momentarily be regained.

“Rabbit, Run” can be read as a standalone novel about Harry Angstrom in the very late 1950s, in a dull job and an unhappy marriage but knowing that, “I once did something right. I played first-rate basketball. I really did. And after you're first rate at something, no matter what it kinda takes the kick outa being second rate." The descriptions of Brewer and and its suburb, Mt Judge, and of the almost anonymous roads and roadside outlets that Rabbit encounters on his initial journey from Pennsylvania to West Virginia, are acutely perceptive of mid-twentieth-century Americana and, at the same time, down-to-earth realistic, presumably a consequence of Updike’s dual narrative perspective. A description of a diner and the dinner Rabbit eats outside Lancaster, Pennsylvania is so American, its blankness and yet its attractiveness, and is followed by an account that is much more than a mere account of what he hears on the different radio stations as he drives: songs, news bulletins (“Tibetans battle Chinese Communists in Lhasa … somebody tied with somebody in St Petersburg Open)”.

Moreover, there is a good deal of pain and some scenes of emotional intensity, with a sense, throughout the novel, of things happening and yet staying the same: “Now he is somewhere here”, Rabbit tells himself when a man filling Rabbit’s car with petrol, shortly after he breaks away from his life in Brewer, asks “Where you’re headed?” However, I will have to read the rest of the Rabbit series primarily because I have found it difficult to reach a satisfactory conclusion about Rabbit Angstrom, even one that recognizes his complexity. He is so mixed-up and causes so much damage and yet Updike is so sympathetic to him. I can, of course, appreciate Rabbit’s attractiveness – as I can respond to the evocative qualities of the central character in Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Glory Days”, about a small-town former sports hero. But Rabbit is a complete mess and only occasionally does he show real insight and then, it seems, not in a developmental way, even allowing for the lack of clarity in any life. Insight is there, but intermittently and invariably forgotten, for example, in the description of the home he is deserting: his little boy's broken toy; the closet door that always catches on the television; his and Janice’s sagging bed; the imitation wood-grain furniture. Here, the details tell against Rabbit's actions, particularly Nelson's broken toy, but they are fascinating more in their own right than in a larger context.

It should be acknowledged that Updike – influenced, as he confirms, by James Joyce’s “Ulysses” – includes indirect monologues by women characters, Janice and Ruth. These are, for me, entirely persuasive and reveal Rabbit’s behavior for what it is but what is odd is that Updike seems not to allow Rabbit to be as informed as we are, and the structure of the novel, suggest that Updike regards Janice and Ruth’s insights as less significant.

The least interesting aspect of “Rabbit, Run” are the sex-scenes, though these were sufficiently controversial at the time for Updike’s publisher to insist on some editing. The edits were later restored. Yet, one description of a sex scene is still remarkable, mostly for how long the description continues.

In case it seems that I have given away the ending, I should say that Rabbit’s flight south occurs near the start of the novel, as though Updike is reacting to the be-all-and-end-all driving that is at the heart of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” of 1957). Now for Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit is Rich(1981) and Rabbit at Rest (1990).
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on 8 August 2013
"Rabbit, Run" is a raw and brutal character study and an uncompromising look at the society of its time. This is not an easy book to read. The characters are all deeply flawed and at the same time complex and "real". Rabbit Angstrom, the protagonist, is a triumph for the author. He's despicable, and at times seems to lack any redeeming quality but then, when you least expect it, he's kind and even naive and there's just some unpronounceable, indescribable charm to him that makes him truly compelling and even someone you cant help but root for. He's a constant contradiction and a coward and you hate him for all the pain he causes to others around him but deep down its hard not to feel a tiny bit of respect for the man. He speaks to those dark moments we have all lived through where you feel trapped, a prisoner and you want to leave it all and consequences be damned. Rabbit does it. He leaves his pregnant wife and his two year old son and just goes. He just runs away. That is the main plot of the book. He goes looking for that special something which we all dream of, that will make us "feel right" and make our life mean something. He cannot stand being ordinary after having been superb in his high-school basketball career. He wants that glory and even though he has no idea where he will find it, in a way he's brave by going out looking for it. He knows its out there for him.
Updike's writing is superb in the description of his characters, their inner views and the world around them. Stylistically he's not an easy author. He has a tendency for over complicating his prose but even if his writing is a bit pretentious at times, its core is so raw it still works well.
"Rabbit, Run" is divided between a picture of the late 50's american conservative society and a character study of a man who is unable to accept that he's destined for a mundane existence living the american dream. Its a sad tale, full of sorrow and destruction. It will make you feel sick sometimes and even angry and distraught. It will move you and poke at you and challenge you. It will make you feel and that is its greatest triumph.
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on 18 October 2014
I bought this because I'd read Updike before and was impressed and because the strength of the writing in the early pages (I read as far as I could on Amazon) was so beautiful and strong. Sadly, that powerful clarity gave way very soon to rambling, sometimes pretentious, even clunky, writing which did nothing to engage me with the characters or the story. Indeed, the writing seems calculated to keep you at a distance.
This is an early work, and his youth shows in the self-indulgence of parts of his writing. His misogyny is startling at times, too, his descriptions of women being sometimes grotesque in a way that borrows from Southern Gothic writing. Only worse - he seems to find women disgusting. Yes, the flashes of genius are there, but for the most part I really struggled to get through this book. The style and pace change to, I imagine, reflect the ebb and flow of Rabbit's state of mind. This sort of works and sort of doesn't. I sighed more than once, but I did finish it. Not least of all out of respect to the author.
I will read the other three books in this series and am interested to see how the writing (as much as Rabbit's story) develops over the thirty years that they were written.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 December 2011
Rabbit Run is the first in a series by John Updike depicting the life of Rabbit Angstrom, former basketball hero, now a dull husband in a dull job in a dull town. His marriage is unfulfilled. His wife, an alcoholic who watches television all day. His family angry and his friends non-existent. His job is boring, his life is boring, and after an impromptu basket ball game with some youngsters on his way home from work one day, Rabbit awakens to the feeling that his life has been a failure and that if he wants to make anything of it he needs to escape the existence he has made for himself. The results of his actions and his selfishness ripple relentlessly through his life until disaster strikes.

This book is bleak and unrelenting. It is misogynistic, violent and drab. It is also beautifully written and exquisitely realised, and quite rightly deserves its place amongst the pantheon of American classics. Updike's graceful writing soars above the prosaic drudgery he describes, making it seem more sordid and mediocre than ever.
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on 14 March 2016
The first of the Rabbit novels. The bleakest. The best. A two-fingers-up job at the rebellious Kerouacs. Rabbit, Run is a poetic existential tour de force that dishes up the darker side of the idea of absolute individual liberty.
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on 20 September 2009
This is the first in a series of four books Updike wrote to document a rather unique view of America in each decade from the Sixties. The writing style makes for very slow reading, the attention to detail is sometimes painful because you will be left waiting for a dialogue to continue while he describes the character's frame of mind and reference. It brings you very close to the characters, often uncomfortably close.

Updike's characters are not cheerleaders and college football hero's. He writes about everyone else, the vast forgotten people who didn't become celebrities and sports stars and who have become cynical if not downright bitter and angry. It's compelling reading but don't look for a happy ending either, nobody learns any lessons or becomes an American hero and if he does acknowledge the American Dream it is only to say "forget about it, it's not for you".

This is hard gritty writing with a scattering of black humour, you'll need to set some time aside to read it, and the three follow ups. I've read the first two and I will start the third once my sensibilities have had a chance to recuperate. I would recommend this book to everyone except cheerleaders and football hero's.
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