Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435
Rabbit at Rest ends the saga Updike began in 1960 in Rabbit, Run but brilliantly continues the history that Updike has been writing through the four volumes. Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is fifty-five when the novel opens in 1989, and as the Reagan years are winding down, so is Harry. He...
(The entire section contains 435 words.)
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Rabbit at Rest ends the saga Updike began in 1960 in Rabbit, Run but brilliantly continues the history that Updike has been writing through the four volumes. Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is fifty-five when the novel opens in 1989, and as the Reagan years are winding down, so is Harry. He has ballooned to 230 pounds, and his addiction to junk food foreshadows his final demise. Harry’s problems are also the problems of America, for Updike is telling two complex histories here at once. In fact, readers see more of America in this final volume, for the first and last sections of the three-part novel take place in Florida, where Harry and his wife Janice live half the year in their condo.
Harry is followed from the first pages by a “sense of doom” that will trail him to his end. Harry and his son are estranged, and when Nelson arrives with his family for a Florida holiday, Harry suffers his first heart attack. Things are not much better when Harry returns to Beaver, Pennsylvania. He has had angioplasty (to avoid the bypass surgery his doctors recommend), but his recovery is slow and not aided by his eating habits or his family. Nelson has been stealing from the Toyota dealership he manages (and which Janice owns) to feed a cocaine habit, and when finally confronted he reluctantly enters drug rehabilitation, and Rabbit has to return to the showroom floor. The Japanese soon take away the Toyota agency, and when Janice starts working nights on a real estate license, the drifting Rabbit ends up sleeping with his daughter-in-law, Pru. Janice finds out about the episode, and Rabbit runs again—as he did in the first volume of the tetralogy—back to Florida.
Harry senses that he has “walked through my entire life in a daze,” and the self-assessment is not inaccurate. He feels betrayed by America, by his unfulfilled dreams. For all his financial success and sexual conquests, Harry is neither happy nor satisfied. Something is gnawing at this former high school basketball star. He reads history to understand his country at the same time he is trying to understand himself, but he fails in the end to penetrate either mystery. All Harry knows is that things in America have changed since he was a boy, and now they are both “drowning in debt.” When he suffers another heart attack—and in another sense of closure, in a pickup basketball game in Florida—readers feel both pity and terror. Updike has written a fitting final chapter for Rabbit Angstrom and another chapter in his continuing saga of American history.