Friday, October 11, 2013

Rabbit Redux

The second novel in the Rabbit Angstrom series by author John Updike is entitled Rabbit Redux. At the end of the first novel, Rabbit, Run, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, had just left his wife Janice (for the second time) after she had gotten drunk and snuffed out a precious life. After growing up in a relatively small town as the star athlete in his high school, he just couldn't face the fact that his life was a mess. The dreams he dreamed as a result of his adolescent popularity, were long since replaced with a life of struggling, of average, of loser. Now, in this second story, published in 1971, ten years after the first story, Harry is now also 10 years older. At 36 years old, we can easily fill in the blanks on what he has been up to. He got back with Janice and they settled back into their troubled marriage, a marriage lacking any measure of love or connection. Harry went to work with his father at the local newspaper as a type setter. Harry's son Nelson is an awkward sort of boy at 12, who possesses none of his father's style or athleticism and struggles to deal with living in a loveless home. Harry lives his life without passion, without joy, just marking time to get it all over with.

When Janice has had enough, she moves in with a co-worker from her father's Toyota dealership. Harry doesn't even have the strength to make the slightest attempt to object or to win her back. He feels that this latest development is deserved because of the life he has wasted. When a co-worker from the paper invites him out for a night of fun, Harry is introduced to a pusher named Skeeter and a teenage runaway named Jill. Without a place to go, Harry invites her to stay at his place. However, somehow Skeeter weasels his way into Harry's house as well. What was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, turns into months. A kind of co-dependent relationship evolves as Jill gives herself to both men in return for drugs and shelter and security and belonging. With Skeeter around, Jill lets herself get hooked on stronger and stronger drugs until she becomes a helpless junkie. Harry also lets himself fall even further, doing things that once he couldn't have imagined doing. In this period he tries to deal with raising his son, but he is now so depressed and beaten down that he can only half-heartedly protect Nelson from what is going on.

Ultimately, Harry is forced to get on with his life after his house burns to the ground. He goes back to live with his parents. While there, his sister Mim who is visiting from the west coast, seduces Janice's lover, knowing that this would cause Janice to run back to Harry. In fact, that is just what happens as the story comes to an end. A very gritty and dark story set in the backdrop of an old Pennsylvania steel town past its heyday, with race relations in full boil. The writing drips with a realism that completely transports you to that place and time. Emotionally charged, X-rated in places, but a powerful work that moved me. Now, onto the third part of the story, Rabbit is Rich, where we will meet up with Harry another 10 years down the road.