After award-winning author John Updike died in January, the Tank wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
After reading Updike’s prudent prose in his classic novel “Rabbit, Run,” the Tank will now add to the fuss. “Rabbit Run” is the first of three books on Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom in which Updike brilliantly wrote about the innermost feelings and doubts of the fictional Rabbit.
As a young father with unrealized dreams, Rabbit felt lost and left his pregnant wife and son to find what was missing. We pick it up when Rabbit returns after his wife, Janice, has given birth to their daughter at the hospital. Harry, mired in the waiting room, is asking Dr. Crowe if he can leave see his wife.
“‘Harry asks, “Can I see her?”
Who? That “her” is a forked word now startles him. The world is thickening. “My, my wife.”
“Of course, surely.” Crowe seems in his mild way puzzled that Harry asks for permission. He must know the facts, yet seems unaware of the gap of guilt between Harry and humanity. “I thought you might mean the baby. I’d rather you waited until visiting hours tomorrow for that; there’s not a nurse to show her right now. But your wife is conscious, as I say. We’ve given her some Equanil. That’s just a tranquillizer. Meprobamate. “Tell me” — he moves closer gently, pink skin and clean cloth — “is it all right if her mother sees her for a moment? She’s been on our necks all night.” He’s asking him, him, the runner, the fornicator, the monster. He must be blind. Or maybe just being a father makes everyone forgive you, because after all it’s the only sure thing we’re here for.
“Sure. She can go in.”
Updike makes you hate Rabbit for the way he ditched his family, but Updike also has you love Rabbit for his vulnerability, his raw self loathing.
We continue at the beginning of the book where Rabbit, a former high school basketball star, comes across six kids playing hoops as he makes his way home from the office.
“The ball, rocketing off the crotch of the rim, leaps over the heads of the six and lands at at the feet of the one. He catches it on the short bounce with a quickness that startles them. As they stare hushed he sights squinting through the blue clouds of weed smoke, a suddenly dark silhouette like a smokestack against the afternoon spring sky, setting his feet with care, wiggling the ball with nervousness in front of his chest, one widespread white hand on top of the ball and the other underneath, jiggling it patiently to get some adjustment in the air itself. The cuticle moons on his fingernails are big. Then the ball seems to ride up the right lapel of his coat and comes off his shoulder as his knees dip down, and it appears the ball will miss because though he shot from an angle the ball is not going toward the backboard. It was not aimed there. It drops into the circle of the rim, whipping the net with a ladylike whisper.
“Hey!” he shouts in pride.
“Luck,” one of the kids says.
“Skill,” he answers, and asks “Hey. O.K. if I play?”
Updike then weaves in Rabbit’s smooth style on the hardwood court of years past. Rabbit now 26 has a wife, job, son and another kid on the way. You want to scream, “Rabbit, grow up!” Yet Updike has you cheering for the lost man as he navigates tragedy — some self-inflicted, some his own doing. He cannot make up his mind and irrevocably damages relationships. It’s like a vicious car wreck that you can’t take your eyes off, in part, because it’s so eloquently written.