Updike uproots the American lifestyle: Stranger than Fiction

Posted by Hunter Prichard

There is an imaginative thrill about a person throwing up his hands, uprooting everything and taking an adventure.

Jack Kerouac and his fellow Beats exhibited this in his road novels. Hunter S. Thompson's Gonzo journalism took him on trips with his attorney to Vegas and with the Hells Angels.

Many authors also seem to have trouble with stability and marriage.

Sherwood Anderson left his wife and young children to go after the artist's life, while John Cheever struggled with alcoholism and eventually reinvented his wife as a narcissistic nuisance to his psychiatrist. Even Charles Dickens kicked his wife out of his home because he thought that she was not accepting his love.

However, writers who leave their families behind or treat them poorly are usually forgiven by the public; they are under the influence of a "greater art."

In the 1960 novel, "Rabbit, Run," author John Updike attempts to destroy this myth by creating a "family-man" who leaves his wife and child to live out his life. He ends up only discovering the harm behind his intentions.

The novel concerns the iconic Henry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a worker in a small Pennsylvania town with an alcoholic wife, Janice, and a young son, Nelson.

Rabbit, a tall man with an odd figure and countenance like that of a bunny, was once a great high school basketball player.

In the opening scenes, Rabbit tells his wife he is going out to get cigarettes. He proceeds to get into his car and start driving. He heads to West Virginia, but then turns around and settles back in town.

Eventually, he shacks up with a part-time prostitute that he is introduced to by his former basketball coach.

Rabbit is a young man — only 27 or 28 — who rejects authority, control, leadership and advice. He does not know exactly what he wants and continually shows signs of immaturity.

Back in town, where he lives a few miles away from his wife and son, Rabbit is hated by most people. Janice's parents are the wealthy owners of a car dealership and the hot shots of the area. They ask the local minister, Jack Eccles, for help.

He attempts to take Rabbit under his wing by confiding in him, questioning him on what he wants in life and offering him a psychiatric and spiritual outlet in the form of Tuesday golf games.

That is one half of the story: Rabbit living in a town in which nearly everyone either avoids him or smothers him with attention and questions about why he left his wife.

He is told at one point, "If you have the guts to be yourself, other people'll pay your price."

This quote sent a shudder through my body while I was reading. I immediately over-analyzed every important decision that I have made, fearing I may have screwed someone over in the process.

The second part of the story concerns his relationship with his new girlfriend, Ruth. Ruth is an unattractive, overweight, unappealing person who serves as a conscience for him.

As his relationship with Ruth tightens and strengthens, he is once again drawn to the clear sky of solitude.

The last third of the book is very eventful. The plot move quickly, making it hard to talk about without giving everything away. Things do not end happily for Rabbit, but for reasons that one would not expect.

Updike followed "Rabbit, Run" with four novels and novella that chronicles the life of Rabbit.

I have only read the first novel. If the next four are anything like the original, Updike has a lot to say on the American lifestyle.

Hunter Prichard is an English major from Portland, Maine or ‘Vacationland.'

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