Rabbit Redux

I’ve recently read Rabbit Redux, which is the second book in the Rabbit series written by American writer, John Updike. Updike is most famous for writing the Rabbit series and is also know for winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once.

Here is a spoiler alert, because I need to talk about some aspects of the book. There is actually very little plot and much more internal character driven drama in this book. In high school, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom was a basketball star, but his adult life is on a downward slope. In the first book of the series, Rabbit Run, Harry is the one who has the long term affair with Ruth, and in this book, Rabbit Redux, it picks up ten years later and his wife Janice has the long term affair with Stavros. And of course, Harry reciprocates by his own philandering. Most of the characters lack moral consciousness. I categorize this as men’s fiction since it comes from the male perspective, and readers have to be a little tough to handle the way Harry thinks and the characters around him. If you’re easily offended, then this book is not for you. Redux means brought back or restored. And in this book, at one point Harry looses everything, and doesn’t seem all that upset by it. At the very end Harry and Janice reconcile.

This book was published in 1971, so you can imagine my surprise when I read Harry’s character saying and thinking things like “making America great” and “America first”. Here we are years later hearing the same from our current president. It’s all been said and done before and some of it is in this book, the thought process, the affairs, the ways men should not treat women, all still relevant right now in 2018.

This book has four chapters that focus on specific characters. The Skeeter chapter is focused on a drug dealing Vietnam vet and this was the chapter that I most struggled to read through. Updike writes these gritty and crude characters somewhat authentically and they press deeply into a vast number of subjects. It’s the late 60’s, and Rabbit Redux provides a window into that period of time in America with aspects of the Vietnam War and the space program literally and metaphorically sprinkled throughout the book. And political, social and economic issues are explored like race, religion, class, drug abuse, physical abuse, parenting and infidelity (and you can expect Updike’s blatant sex scenes).

While I didn’t like or agree with a lot of the characters in this book, by the end I wanted to see something good happen to Harry for once, and picked right back up with Harry ten years later in the next book of the series, Rabbit is Rich. If you’re reading or want to read the Rabbit series, I recommend you read them in the order of their chronological installments: Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest.

Writer Joyce Carol Oats sums up the series with this quote,

“The being that most illuminates the Rabbit quartet is not finally Harry Angstrom himself, but the world in which he moves in his slow downward slide, meticulously recorded by one of the most gifted American realists…the Rabbit novels in all their grittiness constitute John Updike’s surpassing eloquent valentine to his country.”

I wouldn’t use the word valentine, but I understand what she is saying because the series is definitely written in homage to parts of Pennsylvania and a realistic view of American culture during the slices in time each book covers.

As with the first book, in the second book, Rabbit Redux, Harry still can’t get his act together, but I’m still hoping to see something good come his way. If this sounds interesting to you, then find your quiet place and start reading or listening.


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