Friday, October 18, 2013

Rabbit is Rich

The third novel in the Rabbit Angstrom series by author John Updike is entitled Rabbit is Rich. This novel was published in 1981, ten years after the second novel in the series, Rabbit Redux. Once again, our protagonist, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, has also aged another ten years. Now Harry is in his mid-40s and we still find him married to Janice, despite all of the junk that they have lived through. At this point in Harry's life, he has settled into a kind of equilibrium. His father-in-law, Fred Springer, who owned the local Toyota dealership, has passed on and willed the franchise to Janice and Harry's mother-in-law. Harry serves as the chief sales representative. The dealership has allowed Harry and Janice to settle into a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle. Harry and Janice still live with Ma Springer, where they settled in after they got back together after their separate affairs a decade ago. Their existence now is slogging through the day so that they can get to the local country club in the afternoon and spend the evening drinking and gabbing.

In this backdrop we meet up again with Harry and Janice's son Nelson, who has completed three years at Kent State University in Ohio. Nelson is 22 years old and has turned out just like his father, moody, bitter, and aloof. The only difference is that while Harry's life is buttressed by his status as a former star high school basketball player, Nelson has no winning memories on which to cling. He carries with him the bitterness and world-weary mindset of a much older man. It turns out that he has gotten a girl pregnant in Ohio and he and another girl ran off to Colorado to escape their individual messes. When they run into further trouble, Nelson and his tag along girlfriend come back to Pennsylvania to live with Harry and Janice and Ma Springer. Given the drama that surrounds Nelson, and the fact that Harry seems to hold only hostile feelings toward his son, Harry's comfortable life is thrown into upheaval. When Ma Springer and Janice push to get Nelson a position at the Toyota dealership, Harry feels squeezed. At the same time, Harry believes that he has met his daughter born from an affair with Ruth some 20 years ago and seeks to learn who she is.

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1982. I wouldn't say that this third novel in the series is any better than the first two. In fact in some ways, I think the first novel was the most moving. However, I am amazed how three novels, each written ten years apart, can have the same feel, develop the same moods, and have such a compelling weightiness about them. Each of these novels does not really follow a traditional story arc, but simply gives us access to a voyeristic seat to follow along for a short time in the life of one Harry Angstrom and his family. Now onto the fourth novel in the series, Rabbit at Rest.