Sunday, January 25, 2009

An insult to the psychotic lowlife community

Current book: Rabbit, Run
Pages read: 271-307 (end)

Thank god this book was short and that I'm done with the damn thing. (Before I conclude my discussion, I want to mention the misogyny that's existed throughout the whole thing, which was really starting to bug me there at the end. Every woman in the book is despicable in one way or another, and while the men are, for the most part, just as bad, it's the women who get blamed for the misery and frustration that all of them are feeling. I'm not saying that misogyny is an automatic red card, as it were, but when the book has no other redeeming characteristics, it bothers me more than usual. Ok, done with that part now.) It didn't get any better or at all redemptive, because that would evince some sort of optimism on the part of John Updike, and I'm pretty sure that he's horribly jaded and bitter and will be forever. Or at least he's pretending to be for the sake of making himself look intellectually melancholic; it's not academically fashionable to write about the inherent good of humanity, after all. Never mind the fact that Anne Frank managed it after persecution by the freaking Nazis. But it's so terribly difficult, you see, being a twenty-something white male in suburban Pennsylvania. Poor, poor John Updike. My heart bleeds.

To come to the point (though I don't know why I should when it took Updike three hundred pages and he could have done it in thirty), Rabbit goes back to his wife and once again vows that they'll be together forever, encouraged by her minister and their "sacred" bond of grief. (Dead children are always great for a marriage. No tears or recriminations there, no sir.) There are a few scenes of them together (I'm sure I don't need to express that they're depressing and tinged with the reek of squalor, but I'm doing it anyway. They're, ah, depressing and tinged with the reek of squalor.) and then they head to the dead baby's funeral. In the midst of the interment, Rabbit flips out, publicly berates his wife for their child's death, and then literally runs away through the woods next to the cemetery. He ends up back at his pregnant prostitute's apartment, where he finds out about her pregnancy, assures her of his intent to divorce his wife and marry her, and also runs out on her while he's supposed to be getting them sandwiches.

Updike attempts to be artistic at the end by bringing us around to Rabbit running away again, and he's not entirely unsuccessful. I have to give credit where it's due: he knows his craft well. The prose is good, and the ending does achieve a haunting sort of tone. I don't think that Updike expects us to like Rabbit, but I do think that he expects us to agree with him about the inherent bleakness of modern life.

Well, screw that, I say. Yes, there are bad parts about life. People often feel trapped in their marriages and their jobs, stifled by their routines, and turn to the uglier things in life. But just as often people are buoyed by their friends and family, change careers and find something they love, take solace in the joy that their children bring them, and are comforted and sustained by the beauty of their love for their husbands or wives. Why don't we get to hear about that? Why isn't there a single shaft of light in this entire novel? I'm not saying everything has to be optimistic and happy all the time, but never? You want to call Updike a master of realist fiction, then I'd like to see some goddamn realism. The world is not a horrible pit of sadness and despair, and to portray it as such seems to me a betrayal of the inherent duty of every author: to show us the truth.

See this box I'm standing on? There's soap in there.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes I used to wonder whether I should read John Updike. Usually, though, I can trust your opinion. And you hated him so much that he died.



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