The Novels (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
With his sixth novel, Rabbit Redux, published in 1971, John Updike resumed the life story of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, the antiheroic protagonist of his acclaimed second novel, Rabbit, Run. Another decade and several more novels followed before Updike came forth with his third record of Harry’s adventures, appropriately entitled Rabbit Is Rich. Rabbit at Rest, which appeared nearly a decade later, is the final volume of the tetralogy. The Rabbit Angstrom books provide an accurate, absorbing, and aesthetically satisfying social history of middle-class North America from the 1950’s into the 1980’s; taken together, the novels may well constitute Updike’s finest achievement.
Born in 1933, a year later than his novelistic creator, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is at times an Everyman of sorts, at other times a kind of holy fool, yet even at his most disgraceful moments he appears to represent the voice of common sense. His mundane adventures, meanwhile, are consistently backlighted by contemporaneous events in political and cultural history, to which they may frequently be seen as a response. The end product of such a technique is an impressive social chronicle, brought close to the reader by the generally amiable, if not always admirable, character of Harry Angstrom himself.
When Harry first emerges on the scene, in Rabbit, Run, he is twenty-six years old, a veteran of Stateside service during...
(The entire section is 3404 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Rabbit, Run. Harry Angstrom, nicknamed Rabbit, was a high-school basketball star in Brewer, Pennsylvania. Rabbit does not go to college. Following a stint in the army, he marries Janice Springer, who is pregnant with his child. One day, Rabbit stops on his way home from work to play basketball with a group of young boys, remembering his days as a basketball star. After the excitement of the game, he returns to the reality of his dirty, cluttered apartment and a wife who is drinking too much. On a sudden impulse, Rabbit, feeling trapped by family responsibilities, gets in his car and heads south in an attempt to flee from the pressures that crowd his life. He gets as far as West Virginia and then turns back to Brewer. Still unwilling to return to his family, he seeks out his old coach, Marty Tothero, and through Tothero meets Ruth Leonard, a prostitute. Rabbit leaves his wife, who is pregnant with their second child, to move in with Ruth.
After Janice has the baby, Rebecca, Rabbit returns home, and they try to resume their life together. During a quarrel, Rabbit walks out on Janice and goes to Ruth’s apartment. Janice gets drunk and while she is bathing Rebecca, she accidentally lets the baby drown. At the graveside, Rabbit shocks everyone by blaming Janice for the baby’s death, saying, “You all keep acting as if I did it. I wasn’t anywhere near. She’s the one.” After the funeral, he goes to Ruth’s apartment and discovers that she is...
(The entire section is 973 words.)