Rabbit at Rest

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

“Enough,” concludes the novel, and Rabbit seems to have made his final run. The book begins with mortal premonitions as Harry waits at a Florida airport, and it ends in the intensive-care ward where the fifty-six-year-old lies after a massive heart attack. Leaving management of the family Toyota franchise to son Nelson, Harry and wife Janice winter in a Florida condo. Rabbit’s rest is disturbed, however, by the revelation that Nelson is a cocaine addict who has bilked their business of more than $200,000. Harry returns to run Springer Motors while Nelson undergoes rehabilitation at a Philadelphia clinic. Harry revisits dying lover Thelma and ignites an explosive relationship with daughter-in-law Pru. When pressures become oppressive, Harry again runs off.

Throughout the tetralogy, Updike uses Angstrom as a measure of social transformations during each of four decades. RABBIT AT REST, in which Harry dresses as Uncle Sam for a Fourth of July parade, records a world in which AIDS and drug abuse are rampant and young people, much more than 230-pound Harry, are obsessed with diet. Women are more independent, and Janice joins a women’s group and studies real estate. The Angstroms’ practice of TV channel-surfing and the montage of radio stations that Harry monitors as he cruises highways make the novel a fin-de-siecle time capsule of popular music, advertising, and current events.

“There is just no end to it, no end of information,” muses Harry over news of Tiananmen Square, First Dog Millie, elections in Poland, and Mike Schmidt’s retirement. But there is an end to Updike’s Rabbit habit. After Harry’s coronary surgery, sister Mim phones from Las Vegas. Recalling their dead parents, Mim declares: “I suppose their hearts failed in the end but so does everybody’s, because that’s what life is, a strain on the heart.” A valediction to an era and a character as distinctive and representative as Babbitt, RABBIT AT REST strains the heart without failure.

Sources for Further Study

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 7, 1990, p.3.

The New Criterion. IX, October, 1990, p.30.

New Statesman and Society. III, October 26, 1990, p.33.

The New York Review of Books. XXXVII, October 25, 1990, p.11.

The New York Times Book Review. XCV, September 30, 1990, p.1.

The New Yorker. LXVI, October 22, 1990, p.143.

Newsweek. CXV, October 1, 1990, p.66.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVII, August 10, 1990, p.433.

Time. CXXXVI, October 15, 1990, p.84.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 26, 1990, p.1145.

The Washington Post Book World. XX, September 30, 1990, p.1.