After a morning of Easter Bunny related activities, I suppose it’s fitting that I write about my experience with John Updike’s character Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. As an initial matter, I’m fairly certain that I messed up here. Namely, rather than starting with Rabbit, Run, the first of Updike’s four novels about Rabbit, I decided to cheat and start with the first of the two that won the Pulitzer Prize, 1981′s Rabbit is Rich (the third book in the series). You know, skip to the good parts, right?
Well, I think the tack I took with this character had a great influence on how much I enjoyed this particular book. After spending way longer on this book than I’d intended or expected, and then finishing with a somewhat ambivalent feeling (although convinced that I wasn’t going to read any of the others in the series), I did a little research with my trusty friend Wikipedia to find out what the big deal was. And upon reading about Rabbit’s exploits both before and after Rabbit is Rich, I truly feel like I would have loved to read the entire series.
Unlike the Star Wars series, in which I was perfectly content to jump in with Episode IV and not feel like I missed a beat, starting the Rabbit series with our main character already in his forties, and with so much of what was happening around him and driving his thoughts and actions being connected to his past (which I mistakenly skipped), I just wasn’t that engaged. (Although for those of you wondering, I still liked this a lot better than Independence Day, the other Pulitzer Prize winner I’ve read about middle-aged American male angst.)
At the start of this book, Rabbit, a former high school basketball star from Eastern Pennsylvania, is in his forties and is working at the Toyota dealership owned by his mother-in-law. However, how he got to that point, and the dynamics of his marriage to Janice, his relationship with his son Nelson, and the strange dynamics between him and his circle of friends and co-workers would have made far more sense to me if I had known more of their history (which I would have if I’d read the first two books in the series). And the book is replete with references to past characters like Skeeter and Jill that didn’t mean anything to me, but after reading about the earlier books in the series, I feel like I really missed out.
All in all, I can’t say that I’d go out on a limb and recommend this book. But on the other hand, I feel like I would recommend reading the entire series. Sounds strange, but maybe it makes sense if you think about it. In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I think I might just go ahead and read Rabbit at Rest (the last of the four in the series); even though I kind of know what happens, I kind of want to read it myself to get some closure.