Thursday, January 22, 2009

John Updike can kiss my ass.

Current book: Rabbit, Run
Pages read: 3-167

I hate this book. John Updike writes in a smug, bleak modernist tone that makes my skin crawl. Everything has a sort of pall cast over it by his narration that tarnishes even the most beautiful of things. (Also, he writes in the present tense, and nobody likes that. Well, maybe some people do, but it bugs the hell out of me.)

The main character, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, is a despicable, immature jerk who leaves his pregnant wife in the first chapter. We're obviously supposed to sympathize with the bleakness of his daily existence, but Updike's prose leaves me with nothing but disgust for him. We follow him through a period of hedging about whether or not to leave, as he drives for hours into the night, but eventually returns to the Pennsylvania town from which he departed. Then he crashes with his old basketball coach, hooks up with a prostitute, Ruth, and ends up living with her for the next several months and becoming a gardener. We're subjected to hearing about his relationship with Ruth, his interviews with his wife's minister, who tries to convince him to go back to his wife, and that minister's interviews with the wife's family, from whence all the pressure comes.

I think Updike is trying to present a picture of a lost modern man and the inevitably of the unhappiness and confusion of his existence. I don't really appreciate that kind of picture, nor am I convinced of the importance of painting it when it's been painted before. You may have noticed the large number of pages I've read in one day, and it's because I'm going through the prose as fast as possible in order to get it over with. Really, this is the kind of book I dislike above all others. I feel like I have a coating of rancid oil on my tongue while I'm reading it. Rabbit Angstrom can die any time, and that'd be just fine with me.

On the plus side, I've been a little bleak myself lately, about career prospects, money, and all those sorts of frustrating issues one deals with in one's twenties, and Updike and his off-putting antihero have kicked me right out of it. It's a nice side effect to be able to say, "Wow. Life is nowhere near as horrible as Updike makes it seem, nor is it as bad as I have self-indulgently been pretending it is." Not that I'm giving Updike any credit for it. The jerk.

I must have tempted fate with the end of my last post, because now I just want Forster's overwrought drama back. Seriously, I'll take a rainy carriage accident any day over this bullshit.

Also, the message of all of my books seems to be that modern life is bleak and hopeless. With F. Scott Fitzgerald up next, I'm not optimistic that it's going to change. Wind in the Willows may be my first real hope. Surely Frog and Toad aren't representative of quiet desperation. Right?


  1. Well, I seem to recall some amphibian angst vis a vis procrastination in "Wind in the Willows". Glad Msr. Updike has gotten you out of the doldrums...that's all we can say for him so far.

  2. Well, I seem to recall some amphibian angst vis a vis procrastination in "Wind in the Willows". Glad Msr. Updike has gotten you out of the doldrums...that's all we can say for him so far.

  3. That was me above, this comment thing is !@#$%

  4. Perhaps you should try Rabbit at Rest, the last book in the series. At least in that one you'll get the ending you're hoping for. :)


  5. I'm so glad to hear you hate this book too! I never finished it, though . . . I gave up on Updike halfway through.

    I've just discovered your blog, and I'm really liking it!

  6. Man, believe me, I would have quit if I weren't reading it as part of the project. I think I actually started it once before and gave up.

    I'm glad you like the blog - thanks!



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