Friday, October 25, 2013

Rabbit at Rest

The final novel in the "Rabbit Angstrom" tetralogy by John Updike, entitled Rabbit at Rest, was published in 1990. As was the case for each novel of this series, this book was released a decade after the previous, and we are re-introduced to our protagonist a decade after we had last been part of his life. Here we meet up with Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, now in his late 50s, and his wife Janice. They have somehow managed to stick together despite the fact that they have always been an ill fit and each has had multiple affairs. Each bears more than a small distaste for the other, but this is somehow outweighed by their bond of familiarity with each other. Harry and Janice are both semi-retired from the Toyota dealership Janice's parent's left her when they died. They spend half the year in Brewer, PA and the other half in Deleon, FL. Each seems to simply mark time by finding some way to fill their day with activities that don't involve the other.

Meanwhile, their 30-something son Nelson with his mother's blessing has taken control of the car dealership. This is a painful development for Harry because he has basically been forced out of the job that kept him active. It has also made his already difficult relationship with Nelson even more tense and spiteful. After a while, Harry gets a sense that the financials at the dealership somehow are more than a bit screwy. When he finally convinces Janice to look into it, they learn that their son has been robbing them blind to support a serious drug habit. The completely maddening aspect of this finding for Harry is that Janice and Nelson's wife Pru seem happy to take this all in stride, which continues to enable him. All of the stress is helping to slowly sap Harry of any life spirit that may have remained in him. After a heart attack he just cannot seem to take seriously his doctor's advice for lifestyle change. The more stress that comes out of the interactions with his family, the more he abuses his body. Ultimately he cannot escape his fate, yet he has a last moment to savor the victory so often tasted in his youth, to reconcile with Janice after his one-night stand with Pru, and to interact with his son Nelson who has been working hard to turn his life around.

This book, just as the previous book in the series (Rabbit is Rich), won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A masterful series that perfectly captured life and times through four decades from the 1950s to the 1980s. A gritty portrayal of a flawed man. If you like literature at its highest level, this series is a must. Now, onto the last part of the "Rabbit Angstrom" series, a novella postscript published in 2001 near the end of Updike's life, entitled Rabbit Remembered.