I promised this a few weeks ago, but just haven’t gotten around to it. For all you literary types out there, don’t look shocked, but this was my first Updike novel. For those of you unfamiliar with Rabbit, Run it is the first book in a series of four. Two of the four won Pulitzer prizes (only one other author has won twice in the category of fiction, and he did it in the same set of novels!). Updike in general is probably more known for novels such as The Witches of Eastwick.
On to the actual book. I was infatuated with the writing for the first 50 pages or so. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. It was a sort of prose-poetry hybrid. Attention was paid to flow and rhythm and partial rhymes. The metaphorical language was beautifully constructed. Then I started getting into the story and didn’t notice it as much. I guess you could say I got used to it. This only lasted probably another 50 or so pages. Then the language started to really annoy me. What I considered great metaphorical language before was now just plain distracting.
Here is an example. I just opened to a random page completely confident that I would have a whole slew of choices. “Number 61 is a big brick place with white wood trim, a little porch imitating a Greek temple, and a slate roof that shines like the scales of a big fish.” Now that might not seem like much, but when it happens nearly every sentence it is hard to focus. I start thinking about Greek temples and fish. Maybe I just have a short attention span.
The story itself was great, in my opinion. Basically, this guy (people call him Rabbit), feels trapped in his life. He has the job he didn’t think he’d end up in, the wife he didn’t think he’d end up with, one child to feed and another on the way, routine, routine, routine…and he just needs to get out. So he runs. Leaves his pregnant wife one night.
Most reviews that I’ve looked up say that they hate the book because they can’t like Rabbit. That it is impossible to identify with a character so morally void. I’m not entirely sure these reviewers have ever truly examined their lives, though. I love what I do and it is exactly what I want to do, yet I can’t help but identify exactly with what Rabbit went through. What about people actually in his situation?
Here is why I condemn those reviewers and am going to set the record straight. I am at a relatively early stage of my life. I haven’t made it quite as far into “the trap” as Rabbit, since I don’t have a long-term job or family. But even my language there indicates how real this trap is. After grad school I will either get a post-doc or take a teaching position. Once I’m in a tenure track position, I’d be crazy to leave. All the while I’m fighting to establish myself as a researcher and teacher to get the tenure. Once you have tenure, you’d be crazy to leave, so that determines where I live for the rest of my life. When you truly examine it, you start to realize, am I deciding my life, or has it been preplanned for me?
There seems to be this socially accepted stages to life. You haven’t lived a successful life unless you go through these. So now you start asking yourself the question, well, I don’t particularly want to change my path, but if I did, could I? Remember, I’m at an early stage, but even this early, how significantly could I really alter my the path I just listed? Luckily, I’m not that far into the trap, so I probably could, but if I had a minimum wage job with a family, I probably couldn’t get up one morning quit and say that I want to become an author or something. Once you realize that you are stuck, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you want to change or not. It is the whole fact that you can’t. It is like someone else is controlling your life and not you anymore.
I should stop harping on this point. To sum up, other great points come up in the novel about religion and its role in situations like these. I don’t want to really give anything else away. I just wanted to emphasize the point that most people hate the book because they can’t identify with Rabbit, and I say how can you not?