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Rabbit, Run

5 stars
13,248 (22%)
4 stars
20,265 (34%)
3 stars
16,211 (27%)
2 stars
6,419 (10%)
1 star
2,983 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,888 reviews
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,965 followers
June 3, 2015
God, do I hate Rabbit Angstrom! How much do I hate him? If I was in a room with Hannibal Lector, the Judge from Blood Meridian, the Joker from Batman, and Rabbit Angstrom, and someone handed me a gun with only 3 bullets, I'd shoot Rabbit three times.

This is the first book by Updike I've read, and his reputation as a writer was well-earned. I'd had a vague idea that this story was about a former hot shot basketball player struggling to adjust to a regular life. I was completely unprepared for this spoiled, impulsive, selfish guy who really only cares about himself and his whims and manages to completely destroy almost everyone around him and still refuses to accept any responsibility for it.

It's obvious that Rabbit isn't meant to be a hero, or even an anti-hero. Updike does a masterful job of tricking you into initially liking Rabbit, even after he leaves his pregnant wife and son and takes up with a sorta-prostitute, but then slowly showing you Rabbit's true nature. And the trick is that it was right in front of you all along.

Brilliant book, and I'd planned to read the other Rabbit novels, but I honestly detested him so much that I don't know if I'll have the stomach for another one in the near future.
Profile Image for Shovelmonkey1.
353 reviews886 followers
July 21, 2011
I'm sorry I think I might have to pause before the start of this review and scream discretely into a pillow:


Phew, that's better, very cathartic. This is yet another book from the 1001 books list which has made me question whether or not the people who write the list actually like people who read books or if they are really secretly intent on torturing us all for their own amusement?

The review will now proceed in the style of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom...

Hello everyone, I'm Harry Angstrom, but you can call me "Rabbit". The name is totally applicable in two ways - in high school basket ball games (I was a sporting ace don'tcha know?) a rabbit is a runner who sets the pace, and since leaving high school I appear to be breeding in a way which is prolific and almost rabbit like too. Some might say I also have a tendency to bounce from thing to thing without really thinking about it. No twitchy nose or whiskers though.

So I had this girl since high school, Janice Springer, and I knocked her up and well, damn it, I'm a fan of the idea of domesticity so I made an honest woman of her and her old man hooked us up with an OK place to live and all and no one was too suspect when little Nelson was born 7 months after the wedding. After all, I'm Rabbit, I'm a breeder... that's what we do!

But y'know how it is. Maybe I'm just not ready to be tied down. Janice drinks, man oh man she drinks and she can be a misery. Nowadays she's so busy looking after the kid she's not interested in me (ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME), not like she should be. I mean, I'm great... a regular swell, the cats pyjamas sewn up around the bees knees. I'm a catch and any woman would be lucky to have me.

So one day I decided that rather than go home to my pregnant wife and two year old kid ,I could pretend that I was still the Rabbit of old, and set out to remove myself a suitable distance from adult responsibility. Turns out that a suitable distance involves moving about ten blocks away in the same town and setting up home with a retired hooker with chunky ankles, while reacquainting myself with a load of people who thought I was great ten years ago. When alls said and done its a nice little ego boost! Don't get me wrong, I think I love her. I mean I am pretty sure I do and she lets me talk about myself a whole lot. Plenty in fact and really that's what it boils down to - self indulgence on a grand scale. I'm a bit uncertain about my direction in life, possibly because of an immature, shallow perspective which doesn't allow me to appreciate other peoples outlooks - maybe I'm a Sociopath? I have no empathy. I like to please myself. End of.

Obviously poor old Janice went and had the baby and man, did it cut me up to think that I might miss out on a whole extra helping of double domesticity so off I went back to Janice without a thought for chunky ankles and my newest domestic set up. After one short night I realised that when the going gets tough then rabbit gets going and promptly bailed again, this time with disastrous consequences. Still I manned up and came home to face what was coming to me, but really I didn't enjoy that much and now I've strapped on my running shoes and am sprinting off into the sunset again as fast as my lucky rabbits feet can carry me. You can catch me in the sequels Rabbit Redux and Rabbit is Rich if you feel like playing with the boundaries of your own sanity, but the subtext will always be that I'm a selfish loser with low self esteem and the attention span of a kitten filled with e-numbers.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews46 followers
November 29, 2021
Rabbit, Run (Rabbit Angstrom #1), John Updike

Rabbit, Run is a 1960 novel by John Updike.

The novel depicts three months in the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball player named Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom who is trapped in a loveless marriage and a boring sales job, and his attempts to escape the constraints of his life.

It spawned several sequels, including Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, as well as a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered.

In these novels Updike takes a comical and retrospective look at the relentless questing life of Rabbit against the background of the major events of the latter half of the 20th century.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز دوازدهم ماه آگوست سال2009میلادی

عنوان: فرار کن، خرگوش: کتاب نخست از چهارگانه رابیت آنگستروم؛ نویسنده: جان آپدایک؛ مترجم سهیل سمی؛ تهران ققنوس‏‫، سال1387؛ در397ص؛ شابک9789643117535؛ چاپ دوم سال1390؛ چاپ سوم سال1393؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20م‭‬‬

جان هویر آپدایک، در همگی آثار خویش، و بویژه در چهارگانه‌ ی «خرگوش»، به رنج‌ کشیدن، و تنها ماندن شخصیت اصلی‌ خویش، در برابر ارزش‌های آنچنانی زندگی همگان، می‌پردازند؛ «هری آنگستروم»، نام آور به «خرگوش»، موجودی هماره فراری و گریزان است، او از مفهوم واقعگرایانه ی عشق، در کانون خانواده‌ ی خویش، و در اجتماع، دلزده، و سرخورده می‌شود؛ همچون «پرومتئوس» از اساطیر «یونان»، سر به شورش برمی‌دارد، اما شورشی بی‌پشتوانه، فرجامی همچون فرجام «سیزیف» دارد، «هری» شورش می‌کند، و شکست می‌خورد، و می‌گریزد، اما در پایان راه، به بلوغ می‌رسد، یعنی تسلیم می‌شود، اما تسلیم نه به معنای حقیرانه ی آن، بلکه به معنای ترک عصیان، و جستجوی ارزش‌هایی دیگرگونه، تا بتوان با تکیه بر آن‌ها، برای واژه‌ هایی همچون: عشق، ایثار، ارزش، و زندگی، مفاهیمی دیگرگونه یافت؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 28/01/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ 07/09/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Candi.
622 reviews4,714 followers
June 2, 2020
“I once did something right. I played first-rate basketball. I really did. And after you’re first-rate something, no matter what, it kind of takes the kick out of being second-rate.”

Harry Angstrom, nicknamed Rabbit as a boy, knows what it’s like to be at the top of your game. And once you’ve been at the top, it is very difficult to come back down. Unfortunately, this seems to be exactly what has happened to ‘poor’ Rabbit. He reached his peak far too early but refuses to believe this. He knows there is something more, something better out there just waiting for him. Maybe he’s right. After all, he’s only in his early twenties, with many years ahead of him.

“The month is March. Loves makes the air light. Things start anew; Rabbit tastes through sour aftersmoke the fresh chance in the air…”

At the start of Rabbit’s saga, he is married to an alcoholic named Janice, has one young son, and a baby on the way. He’s working a dead-end job that he hates. He lives in a house in his old hometown. Sounds like the perfect description of the ‘American dream’ gone awry, doesn’t it? Then he does what many of us would secretly like to do if stuck in these circumstances – he runs away. He gets in his car, with no destination in mind at first and just drives.

“He wants to go south, down, down the map into orange groves and smoking rivers and barefoot women.”

This sounds all well and good, and reading this during a pandemic made me perhaps a bit more sympathetic towards this escape artist than I perhaps should have been. I want to run south for the beaches too. The obstacle is this little nuisance called guilt. Does Rabbit have any sense of accountability? I’d say it’s wavering at best. But it is definitely there. When I consider the feeling of ‘guilt’, naturally religion comes to mind. The worry that your sins will come back to haunt you, that somehow you’ll pay for them one way or another. It’s a powerful check on our actions, for those who believe. Rabbit is a believer. Some of the most compelling scenes of this novel were those involving Rabbit and an Episcopalian minister, Reverend Eccles. Will Eccles succeed in bringing Rabbit around? Can he talk sense into this young man and make him see his responsibility towards his family and his unborn child? The thing is, Eccles has his own struggles with his vocation and with his perfect little family.

“With his white collar he forges God’s name on every word he speaks. He steals belief from the children he is supposed to be teaching. He murders faith in the minds of any who really listen to his babble. He commits fraud with every schooled cadence of the service, mouthing Our Father when his heart knows the real father he is trying to please, has been trying to please all his life, the God who smokes cigars.”

I’m not going to divulge any more details plot-wise. It is not necessarily fast-moving, yet for me this was a sure page-turner regardless. John Updike holds you captive; you just have to know what Rabbit will do next. He’s highly unpredictable! And while I know deep-down he’s kind of a despicable bastard, I found myself on his side (most of the time.) I think this is a trick Updike has mastered over the reader. He never really paints anyone else likeable enough to align with, so you’re left with spurring on his pet Rabbit. It’s brilliant really. Updike won’t let us forget that for every action there is a consequence, however. When you swerve and bend as much as Rabbit does, eventually you are bound to collide with something bigger than you. I was stunned by this collision just as much as Rabbit.

This was my first John Updike novel. I am in for the remainder of the ride. He refuses to let me unbuckle and exit at the next stop. It looks like I have three more books in the series to go before I can lay Rabbit to rest.

“The only way to get somewhere, you know, it to figure out where you’re going before you go there.”
Profile Image for Justin.
284 reviews2,300 followers
November 7, 2016
This is the best book I've read this year. Period. Maybe last year, too. Maybe. I don't know. But this book is amazing. I just looked up synonyms for "amazing", and all of them are adjectives you can use to describe this book.

Man, John Updike just has this way of making the most mundane, ordinary stuff extraordinary. He takes pages and pages to set a scene or describe the inner thoughts of one of his main characters, and all of it is awesome. I mean there were paragraphs that went on for pages to depict every single aspect of a scene, and I ate it all up like a beautifully crafted Caesar salad before the filet and baked potato arrived. That steakhouse analogy seems appropriate because this is like the Ruth's Chris of literature. There is so much more I want to do with this illustration, but I'm gonna stop myself and move on.

When I consider the plot of this story and imagine myself describing it to someone, it doesn't feel like an easy sell at all. I mean, here I am giving it five stars, and I feel like breaking down the story for someone will make them think I'm crazy. Like, "Alright, alright, check this out. This guy, Rabbit, yeah, not his real name. Long story. Anyway, dude has this wife and a kid and stuff and he has this boring job and then one day he just decides to run away from it all. It's crazy. And, man, I don't wanna run it for you, but he makes these crazy decisions and gets himself in some wild situations and I'll be damned if it really is just a whole awful, sad mess of a story, but it's awesome, man. It's so awesome. Sometimes nothing happens for a long time, but the writing is so good that you don't even really care. The characters are complex, too, and all developed and stuff and you just get lost in the story every time you pick the book up again. It's classic contemporary American literature or something. I don't know."

And that's how I would describe the book. Just like that. Because that's how I talk in real life when I'm not reviewing books on the internet.

I can't recommend this book enough. I've got some Roth and Bellow waiting now. Look at me getting all well rounded and cultured all of a sudden. Maybe I'll start writing serious reviews like I'm writing for The NY Times or something. Bigger adjectives and more pretentiousness and whatever. Start talking about existentialism and symbolism and the human condition. Maybe I'll turn a corner.


Profile Image for Matt.
935 reviews28.6k followers
April 18, 2020
“[Rabbit Angrstrom] drives too fast down Joseph Street, and turns left, ignoring the sign staying STOP. He heads down Jackson to where it runs obliquely into Central, which is also 422 to Philadelphia. STOP. He doesn’t want to go to Philadelphia but the road broadens on the edge of town beyond the electric-power station and the only other choice is to go through Mt. Judge around the mountain into the thick of Brewer and the supper-time traffic. He doesn’t intend ever to see Brewer again, that flowerpot city. The highway turns from three-lane to four-lane and there is no danger of hitting another car; they all run together like sticks on a stream…”
- John Updike, Rabbit, Run

All of us, at one time or another, has felt the urge to drop everything and run away. Perhaps you have felt this notion multiple times, or perhaps multiple times during a single day.

I certainly have, at least.

On particularly tough days, it is gratifying to imagine yourself sprinting away from your troubles like Forrest Gump, heading for the hills, or the hills beyond the hills, to escape the relentless everyday responsibilities: job; bills; student loan debt; the leaking faucet; the crab-grassy lawn. I mean, in the time it took me to finish this first paragraph, three separate kids burst into my office, with two ridiculous requests, and one vague, troubling pronouncement (“I didn’t drop mommy’s earing in the toilet”).

It is exhausting.

The fantasy is to start fresh somewhere else, with none of the world’s weight on your shoulders. It’s not for nothing that there are actual firms that will help you fake your own death (not that I’ve, um, checked or anything).

It should go without saying that this is not something you should actually do, especially if you have a family, and friends, and serious obligations. Simply dropping all these burdens onto others would be the height of selfishness. Moreover, it takes a certain kind of low person to walk out on those who love them.

John Updike’s Rabbit, Run is about just such a man.

Harry “Rabbit” Angrstrom is a familiar type, a 26-year-old man who peaked in high school (as a basketball star) and is now caught in the drudgery of the suburbs, with a wife he doesn’t love, and a young child who annoys him, and a job selling an appliance called the MagiPeeler that is as unfulfilling as it sounds.

One day, Rabbit hops into his car, and just goes. However, being a somewhat remarkable dud, he quickly gets lost, and ends up returning to his hometown, where – after some contrivances – he ends up living openly with a prostitute named Ruth. Distraught, his wife, Janice, goes back to live with her well-off parents, while a young Episcopal priest named Jack Eccles attempts to coerce Rabbit into a reconciliation.

That is pretty much the plot of this famous – indeed, classic – Updike novel.

Rabbit, Run was first published in 1960, and it is firmly set in that era. This is a snapshot of small-town America in the Age of Eisenhower, with a character chafing at conservative strictures regarding sex and religion, while attempting to forge his own identity. If this all feels a bit too premeditated, a bit too self-consciously important, well, it sort of is. There are a number of on-the-nose dialogues, especially between Rabbit and Eccles, that definitely call attention to themselves. Certain pages transported me back to English class, even though I was never assigned Updike in either high school or college.

Nevertheless, I really liked this. Rabbit, Run is absorbing, for the simple reason that Updike is an extremely talented author. I don’t know for sure the state of Updike’s reputation today. Suffice to say, he was prolific during his career, and whatever his place in the firmament, his literary ability is first-rate.

Rabbit Angstrom is an awful person, but he is also completely drawn and fully imagined. When you think of great fictional characters, the ones that pop instantly to mind tend to have obvious dramatic heft. Rabbit, though, is mostly pathetic, the kind of post-high school loser who manages to hold onto his narcissism in the face of all evidence to the contrary. At first glance, he does not seem the type to be called unforgettable. But he is. Even in the best of fiction, most characters are static. They are characters in the definitional sense, with a particular role and a plot-functional purpose. Not Rabbit. He is dynamic and erratic and a bundle of competing impulses. You never quite know what he is going to think or say or do next, which makes him feel real. Not likeable, mind you, or even sympathetic. But real.

None of the other characters in Rabbit, Run achieve this level of depth, which is not surprising. Updike also has a tendency to draw these supporting actors with reference to their physical traits, especially the ones he finds repulsive. That said, there are glimmers of humanity in both Ruth and Janice, once you wade through their surface struggles with weight and alcohol, respectively.

At the time this was published, Rabbit, Run was notorious for its depiction of sexuality. Apparently, this was toned down quite a bit by the editors, and nothing in these pages felt even mildly risqué by modern standards. (Of course, my barometer is a little skewed, having just finished Outlander). Indeed, there is something almost quaint in what qualified as controversial at the start of the 1960s. For instance, there is a scene involving fellatio that is given – a bit laughably – near-earth-shaking ramifications.

What struck me here was not the sex, but Updike’s unbelievable attention to detail, and his ability to mold that detail into beautiful prose. It’s just flat out stunning. There is a throwaway sequence in which Rabbit and Ruth go on an outdoor hike, and Updike’s effortless capacity to switch from his deconstruction of a failing marriage to a picture-accurate description of everything they see on their walk, is quite amazing.

Without spoiling too much, Rabbit, Run makes a hard, third-act swerve that abruptly and totally changes the tone and tenor of the book. It is a bit jarring, like being catapulted into a novel by Andre Dubus III, where small bad things often lead to big bad things. When it first happened, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Updike’s sudden curveball. Upon reflection, though, it works, and allows Rabbit to remain true to his unfortunate nature in the starkest way imaginable.

There is an inclination, especially when dealing with famous authors, to inflate their work so that it comes to symbolize a certain generation or time period. Having come so late to the Updike game (he died in 2009), I read this with a virtuous ignorance, the pages unencumbered by any broader meaning.

Rabbit, Run, of course, is only the first novel in what became a tetralogy, following the arc of Rabbit’s life as set against the background of a changing America. Despite the fact that Rabbit’s story continues, Rabbit, Run works perfectly well as a standalone. Instead of the broad scope and boundless ambitions exhibited in many classics, Updike gives you a precise, powerful, and lacerating character study that – page for page – delivers quite the punch.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,635 followers
February 19, 2017
This was the first and shortest of the Rabbit books from Updike. I think that the last two are better because Updike had 30-40 more years of maturity and writing under his belt but this book grabs you and doesn't let you go and makes you beg the the next one. The original concept behind the series is that Updike describes the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom in 1959 in Rabbit Run, 1969 in Rabbit Redux, 1979 in Rabbit is Rich, and 1989 in Rabbit at Rest. There is even an epilogue Rabbit Remembered in the short story collection Licks of Love.

Back to Rabbit Run, Harry Angstrom is a tall man of his times. About 23 years old and married to an alcoholic woman. The outlook is rather grim (no spoilers), but it is so well-written and realistic that the characters really leap from the pages and you want to root for Rabbit even when he is acting like a prick (which he does a lot). The descriptions of life in the US for this everyman character are priceless (and continue to capture the uniqueness of each era in every volume).

What is striking in Updike is how closely his descriptions of human relationships reveal the fissures and cracks that will ultimately lead to rupture or in rare cases reconciliation. He, albeit male, perpective of sexuality is incredibly realistic, the characters feel like you just sat next to them on the bus, or crossed them at the Five and Dime (if those even exist anymore). The evocation of America at the end of the 50s in Rabbit Run feels very real - the moral strictures of Eisenhower are still there, the wounds of McCarthyism are still fresh, and the Korean War is just over. The Cold War is certainly present as well. Another striking aspect is the frustration of Rabbit and at the same time his resignation to fate against which he feebly rattles his chains from time to time. Despite being a deeply tragic story in many ways, it introduces us to Updike's Everyman who will later takes us through 3 more decades of radical change - for him, for us, and for America.

I would highly recommend this book for those who wish to discover Updike who while perhaps not up in the Roth-Pynchon echelon of late-20th C writers is certainly very, very close with two Pulitzers (for the 3rd and 4th books). It is a fun and exciting read. Enjoy!

From a comment I made in a reading group on GR discovering Rabbit for the first time:

In Rabbit Run, I think that it is not a mid-life crisis that Harry is having, it is more that he is realizing that his actions have consequences. During his life as the high school star, he did not have to actually think about anything, he could get away with coasting (and boasting and bullying). Enter Janet and the unplanned pregnancy. Both of them are too young and too irresponsible to be parents. Janet drowns herself in alcohol unable to deal with the screaming baby and Rabbit, well, Rabbit runs. I think the book was trying to put the lie into the stereotypical Eisenhower era's idyllic 50s family in demonstrating how the lack of education on birth control and the authoritarian methods of parenting popular at the time only reproduce the same (or worse) behavior in the generation that follows. Each of the other Rabbit books does this kind of counter-example (against the 60s,70s and 80s respectively). If Updike were alive, he would probably point to Rabbit Redux and Rabbit Run and say, "THIS is why Drumpf is in the White House" meaning that the Rabbit half of the country (you will see that Rabbit remains an Angry White Man like my dad and like the cornerstone of Drumpf's support) hated their weak mothers (like Janet) at least subconsciously and would never, ever conceive of voting for HRC and so have to double-down on their bad choice by convincing themselves that his lies are truth and truth is "alternative fact" because otherwise, they would be forced to see the rot that forms the core of themselves. Rabbit Runs demonstrates that, in fact, actions do have consequences and that irresponsibility snowballs - sorry no spoilers - and Rabbit running away does not solve his fundamental questions because he is blaming his circumstances rather than looking inside himself for answers because that is too painful for him.
Does anyone see what I mean here? The danger of posting on FB or GR so close to waking up...
Profile Image for Joel.
556 reviews1,667 followers
June 8, 2011
You know what would be nice, is if there was a wikipedia for life, and every time you met someone, you could just give it a glance and see if, you know, you really want to be associated with that person.

Sure, it would backfire, it would reveal your prejudices and narrow-mindedness, your circle of friends might become a lot less varied and interesting. On the other hand, you'd never have to fake a conversation about football again, and you could easily avoid the total assholes like Rabbit Angstrom.

I didn't finish this book. I read 30 or 40 pages and I can't even remember the writing because never before have I hated a character so much. I am someone who never notices the annoying characters in books or movies; mostly, you have to reach a Bella Swan-level of idiocy before I'll start hating you. Rabbit did it within a few pages. I can decide what it was: was it when he berated his wife for being too fat and unkempt after giving birth to and caring for his child? Was it when he kept thinking about how dumb she was? Was it how he pulled that whole, "See you honey, I'm going to the store... forever!" trick, and ran off to sleep with his mistress and mope about his sad excuse for a life?

But this is an Important Book by a Famous Author, and who wants to admit defeat? So I went to wikipedia and I read the plot synopsis. Disgusted, I read about the rest of Rabbit Angstrom's life as told in Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich and Yay, Rabbit is Dead Rabbit at Rest. Spoiler alert: he never stops being absolutely horrible for a single second. They say you shouldn't make snap judgments, but I'd wager running away from your wife and toddler son with nary a word is one of those times where basing your opinion on a first impression is ok.

Please, go ahead and tell me I am wrong for reviewing this without finishing it, for not appreciating Updike's prose, for not seeing how he has humanized a hateful man, for failing to realize the way Rabbit's life works as a metaphor for the deconstruction of masculine identity in post-WWII America, or how erectile dysfunction is a really big deal, or the lie of hyper-consumerism, or the empty pursuit of middle-class ideals. Then I can go ahead and make a snap judgment about you too (for clarity: JUST KIDDING!).

Sometimes you just don't want to read a nasty, ugly book about someone horrible. Let alone fucking four of them. This one's for you, wikipedia.

Facebook 30 Day Book Challenge Day 2: Least favorite book.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,986 followers
February 19, 2017
Have you ever seen something noted because it is a representation of a specific thing? For example, a building might be marked with a plaque as a perfect representation of a type of architecture. Well, this book should be marked with a plaque as a perfect prose example of America in the late 50s/early 60s. The thoughts, ideas, acceptable social standards, treatment of women, etc. are so vivid and strongly represented, but soooooo dated!

The book is very interesting, but mainly held my attention the way a trainwreck would. I spent most of the book exclaiming "NO, Rabbit, NO!", "Why would you do that, Rabbit!?", "How can anyone put up with you, Rabbit!?", "Do you really feel like none of this is your fault, Rabbit!?", etc. Needless to say, Rabbit is a guy that needs some serious help!

This is not a book for everyone - especially if you don't like uncomfortable relationships. I spent some of the book thinking it is great and some of it thinking it is terrible. In the end, the terrible only made me want to see more (again, trainwreck), so I settled on the 4 star rating.

Also, I am looking forward to seeing what insanity Rabbit gets up to in the rest of the series as so much is left unanswered.
Profile Image for Robin.
493 reviews2,723 followers
January 27, 2022
I'm kinda speechless. My mind is spinning from being held hostage by John Updike for the last two hours of reading this book, which is equal parts disturbing, relatable, repellant, tragic AND one of the most amazingly written books I've read.

Harry Angstrom (Rabbit) is 23. He was a one-time great basketball player in high school. Now, our tall protagonist is waking up to his real nightmare: he's married to an alcoholic with whom he has little in common (besides their two year old son and the baby she is carrying), he has a mindless job selling vegetable peelers, and he is trapped. One night, with no premeditation, he does the despicable: he runs.

Yeah, he abandons his pregnant wife and little boy. Rabbit, as an astute Goodreads friend of mine said to me, is a Pig. Tis true, he's often acting like a jerk. But somehow John Updike, this literary craftsman extraordinaire, makes us understand him, feel his disappointment in his 1950s suburban hell, and hope for some kind of release.

There are stretches of this book where not much "happens" - but Updike captures the interior world of the characters so well. He depicts their thoughts and feelings in such a way that I am glued to the page. Despite the 1950s setting and his excellent depiction of this time, I am astonished at how modern this reads. The depiction of male sexuality is spot-on, and fairly graphic. Sex plays a big role in Rabbit's determination to find the elusive something that will give his life meaning, that something that satisfied him so well on the basketball court in years past.

Eccles, a priest who is trying to steer Rabbit in the right direction, uses religion as a beacon to bring Rabbit away from the dark side. But Rabbit is more interested in (an imagined?) flirtation with Eccles' wife than God. One of the most fascinating parts of the book is when Rabbit is playing golf with Eccles, and the game becomes metaphorical, with Rabbit struggling and getting stuck in the sand, then experiencing a perfect swing.

If the idea of rooting for such a character disgusts you, never fear. Rabbit is doomed to be punished - severely - for thinking he can escape his responsibilities. The tide bringing this punishment comes slowly. I could see it approaching inch by inch, feeling sicker as its destructive wave threatened, but powerless to move, witnessed its hideous, tragic crash.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,973 reviews1,983 followers
December 4, 2013
Get over it! Pull up your socks and get on with it! Sheez.

Book Circle Reads 96

Rating: 2.5* of five

The Book Description: Penguin's bumf--Rabbit, Run is the book that established John Updike as one of the major American novelists of his — or any other — generation. Its hero is Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, a onetime high-school basketball star who on an impulse deserts his wife and son. He is twenty-six years old, a man-child caught in a struggle between instinct and thought, self and society, sexual gratification and family duty — even, in a sense, human hard-heartedness and divine Grace. Though his flight from home traces a zigzag of evasion, he holds to the faith that he is on the right path, an invisible line toward his own salvation as straight as a ruler’s edge.

Ballantine's is a little better--To millions of Americans, Rabbit Angstrom is like a member of the family. They have followed him through RABBIT, RUN, RABBIT REDUX and RABBIT IS RICH. We meet him for the first time in this novel, when he is 22, and a salesman in the local department store. Married to the second best sweetheart of his high school years, he is the father of a preschool son and husband to an alcoholic wife. The unrelieved squalor and tragedy of their lives remind us that there are such people, and that salvation, after all, is a personal undertaking.

My Review: I suspect my hostility to this book stems from a lack of respect for Rabbit Angstrom. I knew guys like this, I could have been a guy like this, and I think reading this book held up too undistorted a mirror to the facets of my own psyche that I dislike the most for me to enjoy the book as a leisure read.

So now let me get at why I gave it such a low rating: I think Updike's writing is mediocre. I think he's gotten heaps of praise for being unsparing and a brilliant observer, both of which are undeniable, and then the flat-surfaced all-nuance-low-impact writing style in this book got a pass. It's BORING. The story infuriates me, yes, my issue there; but the way it's told...! Blahblahblahblah even in the most tragic moments. Like the Peanuts cartoon adults, the entire cast of the tale seem to honk and blatt, and nothing makes one sit up and take much notice of any one of them.

Flat flat flat. Untoasted white bread spread with Miracle Whip, topped with limp outer leaves of iceberg lettuce and slices of weak-kneed, pale-pink winter tomatoes, with one piece of undrained, undercooked bacon in the middle.

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Profile Image for Julie G.
895 reviews2,925 followers
June 8, 2022
If The Catcher in the Rye hit the American literary scene with shock and awe in 1951, then I can't even imagine what happened when Rabbit, Run hit the bookstores in 1960. My guess is that it wasn't exactly circulating amongst factory workers and housewives (remember when we used to have those here??), which is ironic, because it's largely about them.

This novel is very upsetting. I can't quite recommend it to you unless you can look me in the eye and tell me that you've read either Philip Roth or Annie Proulx and enjoyed and/or appreciated their writing, even if you need to read their work from the fetal position.

If you are a sophisticated reader, you might prevail here. If you are the type of person who likes to examine life, even the life of a rat-bastard like Rabbit Angstrom, you will want to crack this cover.

This is one of the most uncomfortable books I've ever read, but it's also one of the best written novels I've discovered in my lifetime. This is "cry into your hands" writing. Stunning, humbling writing. I-can't-believe-I've-never-read-Updike-before writing.

Wow. What an introduction!
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books964 followers
June 29, 2020
Apologies to my friends who are Updike fans. Despite my hopes to love this classic, I didn't. I'll try to be as specific as possible why.

Part of the issue is probably my own modern perspective. Rabbit, Run was first published in 1960 and its themes are meant to specifically address a certain type of mentality during that moment in time. Updike said that inspiration came when he observed a "number of scared dodgy men" in the late 1950's, "men who peaked in high school and existed in a downward spiral." And indeed Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom fits that mold, lacking maturity and generally clueless about how the world works. He applies the social constructs of high school sports to adulthood, and when confused by the results, runs away to find a new problem.

I think this is a timeless character dynamic that transcends the social context of 1960, but the way the story unfolds doesn't feel timeless. Much of the humor around religion and politics didn't make me chuckle, as it might have for the book's original audience. Rabbit's masculinity, even when tongue-in-cheek, comes across obnoxious. As is probably intended, but it gets too nauseating to sit through. Sixty years ago, I could imagine the jokes landing better and the journey of this particular character more interesting. But I turned each page hoping the bumbling idiot would get hit by a train.

The most egregious fallback I think is the pompous prose. It would be one thing to read about an idiotic character if the writing were more whimsical, like the immortal Don Quixote, but a distant poetic narrator who takes this all so seriously further blunts the humor, and fails to make the plot's serious moments stick.

It is too bad that this book didn't land, because the premise of the entire series has long held my fascination. I intended to read them all consecutively for full effect, but the thought of sitting through another one genuinely appalls me. Maybe one day I'll read this in a literature class and a professor will enlighten me on all the brilliance I'm missing. Until then, no more.
Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
416 reviews367 followers
July 19, 2022
Rabbit, Run by John Updike

The main character, Harry ‘Rabbit” Angstrom is living in the 1960s (I assume) America, unhappily married to Janice, in fact there are certain aspects of her he despises. They have a child; life is bleak, and he decides to run away. He ends up in the reluctant arms of Ruth. What follows is a very gritty description of ordinary people living ordinary lives and putting up with the consequences of big decisions. To my mind, the events in this story are happening today, under some roof, in some suburb of some country, somewhere. In many all over the shop.

figure out where you’re going before you go there

That’s enough for the plot as most of my friends on GRs would have read this book – so I just want to dot point some of my thoughts and (yes) feelings about this rich piece of work, because my ‘feeling gland’ has been working over-time the last few days and is still pumping out whatever hormones it pumps out, to make me feel this way, 24-hours after completing this classic.

This rambling list of mine is riddled with spoilers:

·        Yes, Rabbit is not unique in the respect he wants to run away. From my own experience and observations, men (yes, us) have the propensity to disappear when things aren’t right, or more correctly aren’t perceived to be right. Rabbit is a master at this. Incorrigible.

·        The consequences of running away, are usually dire to those impacted. This insult can be felt by the people we run away from (wife, children, in-laws, friends) and/or to the people we run to (new partner, stepchildren, new friends).

·        In Rabbit’s case he ran back AGAIN! When that happened, I practically fell off my chair! What?????

·        The consequences of such actions can be a matter of life and death. In fact, the death of poor little baby Rebecca June, made my heart break – I am sure I am not alone. Poor little girl, an innocent bystander. She just needed a bath.

·        A man doesn’t have to physically leave to actually leave a marriage – take the episcopal priest Jack Eccles. He left his family as his mind was always with other people, trying to solve their problems. His wife knew it, and this worsened during Rabbit’s troubles. But Jack was a good guy – in my view.

·        Sex is very often (more often) a physical, rather than a loving act. Updike does a wonderful job (I experienced this with Roger’s Version – which I loved) of describing sex scenes. Make no mistake, these acts are devoid of love and are downright gritty. Updike takes his own sweet time painting these sex scenes. Often ugly, riveting.

·        The author does a wonderful job of putting sex high on the list of prime motivators for men. Rabbit is fixated by his desire for sex and women, anything can set him off. One classic scene of him sitting behind a woman in a hat, with blonde curls escaping below the brim at a church service, gave him reason to act in the basest way when he got home - until he inevitably expunged his ‘terrible clot’.

·        Relationships with parents define us. Look at the way Rabbit’s mother treated him. He was very familiar with dismissive and insulting behaviour directed at him. So, when Janice or Ruth talked down to him, or dismissed him in any way  – it never deterred him, it might not have made him happy – but he still pursued what he wanted. His member remained engaged and curious, unsatisfied.

·        Rabbit certainly believed his life was empty. The fact he was a high school basketball star may have had something to do with this as he couldn’t achieve those same heights in adult life - working as a vegetable peeler demonstrator or selling used cars at his father-in-law’s business. Bland stuff indeed.

·        Running away achieves nothing in the way of positive outcomes, most likely the opposite occurs.

Sleep this night is not a dark haunted domain the mind must consciously set itself to invade, but a cave inside himself, into which he shrinks while the claws of the bear rattle like rain outside

For what it’s worth I’m not sure who I liked in this story, I know this is a warts and all reveal on ordinary people but........... yikes!

Okay my most likable is Priest Eccles.

Most dislikeable is Rabbit (or Ruth).

Updike must have been EXHAUSTED during and after writing this story. Each sentence on every page seems to be constructed with great thought and care, nothing is amiss here, it’s detailed but seems to be free-wheeling. It is rich, dense, and dirty. I was totally immersed in the world of Rabbit Angstrom and I am so glad there are more books in the series – I need to see how he gets on. I am not optimistic.


This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,222 followers
November 5, 2015
I’ve read three or four Updike novels and I can’t recall a damn thing about any of them. Never a good sign. I was fifty pages in before I realised I’d already read this one. That in itself – to spend money on a book I’d already read – was irritating! Updike’s novels seem like misplaced objects in my life. He’s one of those writers I feel I’ve underappreciated and yet every time I give him another go I’m left underwhelmed. This isn’t a bad novel by any means. But I was relieved to finish it because it’s not what I would call an enjoyable novel. It’s rather humourless and lacking in vitality for a novel written by such a young man. In terms of its scope it often felt like a short story or a novella that had been fattened up for consumption.

Updike is writing about the blindfolding tyranny of male vanity but I often felt he himself was guilty of it in the register of this novel’s voice. I couldn’t help thinking of our (English) young literary protégé Martin Amis. Like Updike’s Amis’ first novel was a sexy, cynical affair about a self-centred misogynistic young man. Except Amis gets us to like his hero by not asking us to like him. Updike, on the other hand, I always felt wants us to like Rabbit. He knows he shouldn’t but he can’t help himself. He’s trying to work Rabbit’s (for me inexistent) charm on us the reader as if he is a reflection of the writer himself. I never felt Updike was sufficiently detached from the character he created. Amis is a whole lot more subtle in creating his male monsters. Amis’ women are deliberately male projections. Updike’s are male projections but presented otherwise. When he gives us their perspective we discover they have nothing better to think about than Rabbit, usually in terms that gratify Rabbit’s vanity. When Rabbit’s supposedly irresistible virile charm also has the clergyman’s intelligent wife wobbling at the knees my suspension of disbelief was punctured. It was like Updike’s own vanity couldn’t resist another (gratuitous) female conquest.
Maybe part of the problem is that I’m English and didn’t find any connection to the suburban middle America community he was depicting but I found this hard work. It’s not a misogynist novel but it does have a lot of misogynist undertones, especially in its depiction of women as weak-kneed, gullible concubines (most evident in his patronising depiction of the clergyman’s wife where he had the opportunity to create a woman of some integrity).

Only the quality of the writing made it a 3 star novel instead of 2.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,465 reviews3,618 followers
June 19, 2016
Rabbit, Run is a book of running nowhere.
We grow up, we marry, we work, we have children and one day we see that our life became a drab routine and total disappointment. And we wish to return to the days of our youth when everything was new and the world shined. And we revolt and run away… But is there a place to run to?
“His idea grows, that it will be a monster, a monster of his making. The thrust whereby it was conceived becomes confused in his mind with the perverted entry he forced, a few hours ago, into Ruth. Momentarily drained of lust, he stares at the remembered contortions to which it has driven him. His life seems a sequence of grotesque poses assumed to no purpose, a magic dance empty of belief. There is no God; Janice can die: the two thoughts come at once, in one slow wave. He feels underwater, caught in chains of transparent slime, ghosts of the urgent ejaculations he has spat into the mild bodies of women.”
Often when we try to regain the charm of our youth we attempt to revisit our past only to find out that everyone and everything had moved on and the charm of the past is irretrievable. And we just sink deeper in the mire.
Profile Image for Fabian.
956 reviews1,623 followers
October 17, 2018
The very precision of words makes this Man-Bad-so-Man-Punished tale oh so jolting. A writer like this composes a cautionary story out of perfect and incredibly complex sentences. He is undoubtedly a poet, especially in his navigating the traditional ('somnambulent') realm of late '50s idyllic Americana gone to the dogs.

"On The Road" bears a comparison in its obvious Grownass-Young-Man-Seeking-Escape motif. The time-frames are also relatable. But this is closer akin to the intrepid tale of 50's Suburbian Woe, "Revolutionary Road" by the brilliant Richard Yates in that it is the second party (i.e. the Running Man's wife, his children, his friends) who suffer the main repercussions of an egotistical act of indifference & familial apathy.

Rabbit symbolizes the Everyman. Rabbit is like an animal, sometimes acting like a dog. Rabbit is white, macho, racist, sexist. Rabbit has been conditioned: he is nonetheless disillusioned & runs away from the wife & into the arms of a slut. Rabbit: "Unique & Mortal"... that's for damn sure.
Profile Image for Alan.
296 reviews11 followers
September 6, 2013
I discovered Rabbit Angstrom and John Updike while sitting in the Intensive Care Waiting Room at a local hospital. My mother languished in a coma for one month before she finally found peace, and I spent most of those days and many of my nights in that waiting room. During much of that time I'd blown through typical waiting room crap like books with plots about overthrowing the government, stories about detectives who were psychoanalysts, stories about psychoanalysts who were detectives, etc. One day during this siege, I stopped at my mother's house and was checking out her bookcases when I found a hardback copy of "Rabbit" and took it back to the hospital with me.
What a revelation. I was amazed. I couldn’t remember reading anything like it before. Honest true-to-life emotions of real everyday flawed people. And in the most beautiful and precise prose that I’d ever encountered. I immediately followed up reading this book with “Redux”, the only other Rabbit book published at the time. Since then I’ve easily read more pages of Updike than of any other writer.
My mother was a voracious reader, and a big public library patron. She bought relatively few books of the many that she'd read, so I always thought that there must have been some special significance to the books that she owned. I’ve always thought that my personal discovery of Updike’s work among her collection was special for that reason. (I also once found a paperback copy of “Tropic of Cancer” at her house – that still blows me away.)
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews532 followers
January 4, 2021
"A penis with a thesaurus."
David Foster Wallace, describing John Updike

Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, 26, Mt. Judge, PA, married with a two-year-old son, is a Magipeeler salesman (not what he dreamed in high school basketball glory days). His wife Janice is expecting another child any day, as every night she boozes it up.

After another argument with Janice, Rabbit snaps, hit with an existential crisis, trapped by lifeless monogamy called marriage, choked by a meaningless job. He RUNS, escapes.

This novel follows three months of Rabbit's life in 1959, from the night he runs, to his visit to his high school basketball coach, an affair with Ruth (who feels comfortably "right" as long as she nixes the diaphragm), the birth of his daughter and running, running, running.

Rabbit is an immature, insecure male obsessed with sex, as an animalistic act, looking at potential partners for their sexual fit. He often refers to his being uncircumcised (his "hooded warrior,” the original "Rumpleforeskin")--uncommon in the U.S.-- insisting Ruth fellate him, as she had other men.

Updike chose Angstrom (meaning "stream of angst"), inspired by his reading Danish philosopher Kierkegaard. In creating the novel (from which flowed three sequels), Updike thought of Kerouac's "On the Road," in imagining what might happen if a small-town, middle-class WASP family man hit the road, and who would be hurt.

He chose a former high school basketball star because he was intrigued by the number of men he saw who had peaked in high school with athletics and were thereafter stuck in a downward spiral.

Updike was groundbreaking in writing graphically about sex in well-regarded literature. Knopf required Updike to delete the sexually explicit passages prior to the 1960 publication, parts that he restored for Penguin's 1963 edition.

Updike said, "About sex in general, by all means let's have it in fiction, as detailed as needs be, but real, real in its social and psychological connections. Let's take coitus out of the closet and off the altar and put it on the continuum of human behavior."

It would be hard to imagine the novel not having sexually explicit passages when it follows three months in the life of a guy whose very identity as a man and human is tied to sex and thoughts of sex and thoughts of things in life as they relate to sex.

This is especially so with Updike's use of the present tense, a brilliant choice. Of employing the present tense, Updike observed:
In Rabbit, Run, I liked writing in the present tense. You can move between minds, between thoughts and objects and events with a curious ease not available to the past tense. I don't know if it is clear to the reader as it is to the person writing, but there are kinds of poetry, kinds of music you can strike off in the present tense.
Until reading this, I didn't realize the many things a writer can do with the present tense. It has a sense of immediacy and a flow that involves one in a story that seems more realistic.
Profile Image for Antonomasia.
977 reviews1,220 followers
October 26, 2019
John Updike sure could write. I have to admit that. Even if it's in a style that's hardly my favourite: the contemporary lyrical literary fiction style, often a little too serious and precious for its subject. There's a slight excess of detail about everything, even this interesting historical artefact, a domestic ice container, from before home freezers: "the cold breath of the ice, a tin-smelling coldness he associates with the metal that makes up the walls of the cave and the ribs of its floor, delicate rhinoceros gray, mottled with the same disease the linoleum has." And this is too much, full stop: "Two pink chairs flank the gauze-filled window buttered with light that smears a writing desk furry with envelope-ends." Or maybe I just don't care enough for these details, and it's only those outdoors that really sing for me, like: "The thought that this place was once self-conscious, that its land was tramped and cleared and known, blackens the air with ghosts that climb the ferny bank toward him like children clambering up from a grave." But there's not much like that; Rabbit, Run is a very indoor book. There's almost a sense of mischief hiding in the rabbit puns and the sexual imagery that pepper narrative description, especially near the beginning of the book, but the delivery remains terribly serious. This novel is perhaps the apotheosis - as well as the earliest clear example I've read - of this style, one that in a more recent book denotes MFA product. (Updike also throws in a few Joycean flights for good measure, one of which, the narrative from Janice's viewpoint about three-quarters of the way through, I found by far the most compelling part of the book, whether because of or despite the spoiler I'd read hours earlier in this article by Julian Barnes.) Now I've read Rabbit, Run (on my third attempt) it seems that Updike's style and point-of-view structure constitute the platonic ideal that thousands of MFAs aim towards, just slotting in different characters, settings and heritages into his template. (He makes that stuff seem even more generic than it did already.) The origins of such things are usually earlier than the most obvious examples - but given the pedestal Updike occupied in American fiction during his lifetime, he was probably its great propagator.

Not only is most of Rabbit, Run written in a style I find boring (however well-crafted it is), it's set in the none-more-boring milieu of lower-middle-class WASPs in small-city suburban America during the 1950s: "the houses showing families sitting on sofas inside like chickens at roost facing TV’s" (I know this setting will be special to some people, including some GR friends, because it was their parents' or grandparents' world - and I am partial towards my own equivalents in fiction.) It was the sheer Americanness that put me off, instantly, the first time I tried to read Rabbit, Run - in 2007 for a real-life book group - and specifically, because of that British disdain for US sports, it was the opening basketball scene. The novel has plenty of socio-historical detail about its world, but it's a world that has been so frequently portrayed in media over the 40-odd years I've been alive that - even without having been to the USA - little of it was new or interesting.

It's a minor curiosity that the main characters in their twenties seem like they're in their fifties - not like real people in their fifties now in 2019, who might be ageing acid house ravers, but the stereotype of what someone in their fifties was like when I was growing up in the 1980s-90s … i.e., I realised, Rabbit and Janice's own generation. So apparently playing golf with the vicar was something one might do even as a confused and irresponsible twentysomething in the 1950s - and they just kept the habits of their youth as they aged… but it's still playing golf with the vicar. (Yeah, this book even made me read about golf. I don't think I've ever read as much extended prose about golf as I have in Rabbit, Run. Whole half-decades have gone by when I didn't read as much about golf as I did in one day in this book.) The guy at least has his idiosyncrasies and contradictions: Rabbit is, obviously, no cardboard cutout James Dean/Brando clone. He may like fast women and be rebelling against a settled, consumerist home life and absurd sales job, but he, unusually for his time, just gave up smoking. And he likes hoovering. When he runs off, he doesn't want to go to a big city because of all the pollution. (Good point, that man. Water and air pollution was pretty disgusting everywhere back then, with a lot fewer controls.) The aforementioned vicar recognises that for all his bouts of running away, Rabbit is essentially a fastidious and domestic creature.

Rabbit and Janice married and reproduced very young by our standards (he's still only 26 in the novel) and there's plenty of scope to ascribe their issues to that, standing as they were on the cusp of a social and sexual revolution, unwittingly embodying its early stirrings. But I think there's a set of tensions here that's still very relevant to being in one's mid-to-late twenties - or it was in the 00s when I felt some of them myself (the final scene gave me a flashback to something I ran out on at least as irresponsibly in 2003 or 4, because I thought it would be an interesting and also masculine way to externalise a ball of confusions) and saw them in others (like a guy who also enjoyed hoovering and was trying to give up smoking but was confused and restless). It's a tension that was probably, in the 1950s, just starting to be created by the new youth culture and the Beats. Mid-twenties is a weird time of mixed messages, when you are supposed to be and look cool and energetic and do exciting things at all hours, but there's also the world of work and financial responsibility expecting a whole lot of stuff that contradicts that. Plus, if, like Rabbit was and I was, you were very good at something when you were younger and you don't see how you'll ever hit a similar peak again, everything can look like a wasteland stretching out in front of you. Not everyone has worked out how to negotiate all this… and by the time you have, it's partly because there's a lot less expectation of being cool in your late thirties. (At least now twentysomethings can get enough sleep and not drink much and feel that's all part of the zeitgeist.)

Presentation occasionally rendered Rabbit's world interesting. I think this is the earliest novel in which I've seen such long lists of products and pop-culture to illustrate consumerism and characters' horizons - a feature I always like, and which seems to anticipate these as a major facet of later fiction, from works that would appear not very much later, like Georges Perec's Things (1965), to those famous for it, like American Psycho (1991).

Ruth's point-of-view narrative shows very effectively, without spelling it out, that she had somehow (the how not being fully explained) ended up with a different morality from those around her. It's not something I've often seen done so well in fiction, especially when, as here, there is no obvious didactic edge to the character in question. Updike also writes dreams unusually convincingly. I often find fictional dream sequences hard to believe, as I have very pedestrian, more or less realistic dreams (e.g. one I had whilst reading this book was that I couldn't stop receiving spam from the Scottish National Party, and it looked like my real email account.) The dreams in Rabbit, Run are surreal and literally oneiric; one can imagine them as real dreams, not something an author made up because they neatly fitted the novel. They reflect characters' emotions, but in a general way, and they include odd shifts and visuals such as melting faces.

A lot of criticism of Updike seems to equate him, to an extent unfairly, with his protagonists. Rabbit, Run is, in the typology of the American high school movie, is a case of an intellectual geek writing a novel about a jock: a washed-up jock nearly ten years out of high school, when his star has fallen, whilst the intellectual is now rising. This makes sense as an exercise in turning the tables (at least imagined according to that stereotyped high-school ecosystem; I don't know anything about Updike's own high-school experience) and in trying to understand and empathise with a person unlike oneself. But for all the author's high-flown style and extensive vocabulary, this also means the novel's world often felt like a cultural and intellectual vacuum, because the characters themselves mostly are one, written in free indirect style or close third-person - and this created another layer of boredom, one reminiscent of my own time at secondary school. I find everybody interesting to some extent - but with some people, that means pretty small doses, and this was a large dose of the Angstroms and the Springers. (The only character I was sure I liked was old Mrs. Smith; and I was intrigued by, and would have liked to know more about, Lucy Eccles. There was something intellectually interesting about the divergent approaches of Episcopalian minister Eccles and his Lutheran counterpart, but that's barely explored; it's not what the book is about, and the novel as a whole hints that sex, shopping, the movies, sports and the self are taking the place of religion.) The author made this world immersive nonetheless, as I didn't notice just how much had felt missing and hollow until I'd finished the novel proper. Something felt alive for me again as Updike's non-fictional analysis fizzed in the afterword to this UK Penguin edition. (First written as the introduction to the collected 4-in-1 Everyman edition named Rabbit Angstrom.) I really don't want to read any more Updike fiction now I've managed this one - but as a result of that piece, I've become more interested in his book reviews.

It was surprising to learn that Updike wrote Rabbit, Run as a critical response to On the Road (1957): to show the mess and pain that would result if a young family man decided to leave conventional society behind. (Rabbit's geographical journey is disappointingly brief - the roadtrip section at the start was one of the few really enjoyable episodes as far as I was concerned. Over the last decade Rabbit, Run has instead become well-known, along with Kerouac, as a prime example of toxic masculinity in literature. This is partly an issue of overly conflating protagonist and author, a problem afflicting a lot of classic novels with intentionally unpleasant main characters. (Though Rebecca Solnit, in her essay on Lolita, argued it's a lot more than that.) This 2009 Guardian piece on 'Updike's Women', which got an absolute drubbing in comments at time of publication, now seems like something one would typically read in the literary press, about persistent misogynistic depictions of female characters. It probably has a point to some extent, and seems quite fair in saying that Updike seemed embarrassed about this trait of his, implicitly acknowledging that he had self-awareness. (Though I know that if I described the appearances of a bunch of characters in the voice of me-in-my-twenties it would be equally merciless and detailed, just with exceptions for a few favourite people and for anyone who looked like they couldn't afford to improve.) It also comes down to another issue quite frequently discussed in literary media over the last few years: how valuing these books and these characters so highly ends up making aspects of their behaviour seem more exciting, normative or even aspirational, perhaps especially to the less critical younger reader, or by accumulation of examples, in society in general. This idea always leaves me conflicted as I support the artistic freedom argument of its opponents, but, as mentioned above (and in a few other reviews) I did copy some of these things myself in my twenties, and good rarely came of it. Not all intelligent people get upbringings that allow them to assess such stuff in the same way they might be able to understand a clear-cut scene of physical violence. There is no easy answer. The blurbs for Rabbit, Run don't always help, as several of them buy into the idea that Rabbit is possessed by divine grace - Reverend Eccles' idea, actually demonstrating that he, for all his supposed insight, has been taken in by Rabbit's narcissistic charisma, like some - but by no means all - other people around the guy. (Narcissistic is a terribly overused term nowadays, but Rabbit's repeated failures, illustrated in free indirect style, to see other people as separate feeling and thinking entities, mean it's warranted. It's female characters who see through Rabbit most often, though often only after they have been messed around or sexually assaulted by him, or both.)

I admit that if this novel was set among similar people almost anywhere other than North America, I would have found it more interesting, and maybe given it four stars, but the combo of style, milieu and characters adds up to a lot of boring as far as I'm concerned. It's easy to understand why Rabbit would want to escape from the town of Brewer, and equally why other people might want to escape from, or see the back of him. Updike is not the writer to satisfy any contrarian inclinations I might have in arguments about the 'midcentury misogynist' male authors. (That's Philip Roth, because I found a lot to connect with in Portnoy's Complaint.) But I'm very glad to have finally read Rabbit, Run and to be able to have a slightly more informed opinion when John Updike is mentioned. I don't want to read any more of his novels having got through this one. (So much kudos to Patricia Lockwood for reading so many of them for the LRB... So many - how many? I thought it said and now I can't find it... as well as for writing prose more exciting than at least 95% of Rabbit, Run). But the clarity of the afterword to this edition makes Updike's book reviews appealing nonetheless.

(read & reviewed October 2019)
Profile Image for Pedro.
197 reviews430 followers
November 8, 2019
If you check my “Reading Activity” for this book you’ll find that I have started reading it on the 17th of June. The truth is, like with ‘Rabbit’, real life kept getting in my way and I was barely reading a couple of pages a day. It was time to stop and check my priorities list... it turns out that reading was high up on my priorities list and so I grabbed ‘Rabbit, Run’ by the balls and read it in the last couple of days.

This was my first ‘Updike’ read and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The story was a bit more domestic than I expected but also more tragic and compelling. I was literally mesmerised.

So basically, we have this Rabbit guy trying to live a normal life, you know, wife, kids, a job, a house and a car. He certainly tries... But decisions are hard to take and life can be pretty boring and/or hard sometimes and take you to places you never expected to go.

So yeah, I loved Updike’s writing, loved the characters and the way the story unfolded from the casual basketball match in the beginning to the tragic ending.

Read this if you’d like to give Updike a try or if you like Philip Roth or Jonathan Franzen’s writing.

Rabbit runs, yes, but I don’t blame him. I also want to run away sometimes.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,486 followers
July 5, 2020
The Rabbit Series
Here's the thing about Updike: he's such a good writer. He's a pure natural. His sentences are incredibly good. (Here in Rabbit, Run, sometimes you can feel the effort a little; by the third book, Rabbit is Rich, he's flawless.) His characterization is brilliant: Rabbit most of all is one of the great real people in literature, and the supporting cast - his wife and child, among others - are also real individuals. And, listen: some writers are good at writing but not good at books (Saul Bellow, maybe?), so they end up a little boring; some writers are bad at writing but good at books (Stephen King), so you enjoy reading them but wince on every page. Updike is great at both; the overall effect is great and so is each individual word. Like one of those fractals where the picture is pretty and then you zoom in and every little piece is just as pretty. That's high praise!

like this but if it was blowjobs all the way down

On the other hand: most of his characters are jerks, and you come off with the general impression that Updike is also a jerk. Rabbit is a small person: selfish, self-pitying, horny. Mediocre in his best moments. You're not sure whether Updike likes him or despises him, and you're uncomfortable either way. So it's easy to admire the Rabbit books, and easy to enjoy them, but in the end you're left with a nagging feeling that you don't love them. There's something off-putting about the whole project. People you don't like are big Updike fans. They're the sort of people who you meet at parties and casually mention that you like to read and they immediately start mansplaining about why Updike is so great and two beers from now they're talking trash about Virginia Woolf. I find myself, like, "Ugh, this book is great," which is a weird thing to say.

Great Authors Whom Annoying People Like
- Updike
- Ernest Hemingway
- Cormac McCarthy
- David Foster Wallace

This Particular Book
Rabbit, Run is about a guy who spends funeral checking out 14-year-old girls. "Their bodies are already there but their faces are still this side of being good," he muses, as they

Ruth, the sometime prostitute (and only likable character) he hooks up with when he leaves his wife has his number: "You're Mr. Death himself," she realizes. "You're not just nothing, you're worse than nothing." What does he have going for him? He's handsome and he's sortof likable, which is enough to get him close enough to destroy everyone around him. Incredibly, you sortof like him too, which is the fantastic achievement of this book: as terrible as he is, you still sortof, dimly, somewhere, root for him.

So here's one of our Great American Characters, and this is a great book. There are a few times where you can feel that Updike was only 28 when he wrote it. There are some sentences that...they're not exactly bad, but he certainly wrote the living shit out of them.

By the way, I can't really recommend reading this if you have a newborn child.

There are several astonishing sex scenes. The first, which is something like 20 pages long, is Rabbit's first encounter with Ruth, and it reads something like if Lena Dunham were John Updike. Later on Rabbit will insist on demeaning sex with both Ruth and Janice, and there will be consequences. This is sex as plot: he's using sex not as titillation but as legitimate events that move the story. Sex is like that for your actual life, too. Updike has a reputation for terrible sex scenes, but I think maybe people are just mad because they're not sexy. I don't think they're supposed to be sexy. They're supposed to be awful, like everything else in this great book about awful things.

Speaking of awful things: if you're not sure what a Modess pad is, here you go.

Rabbit, Ranked
1. Rabbit is Rich, five stars (1981)
2. Rabbit, Run (1960)
3. Rabbit at Rest, three stars (1990)
4. Rabbit Redux, two stars (1971)
5. Rabbit, Remembered, three stars but totally unnecessary and not usually even mentioned (2001)

Can I just read this one and not the others?
Yes. It is a self-contained story that's satisfying all by itself.

What should I use as a bookmark?
A burned match.


(More of my dorky bookmark project here)
Profile Image for Ben.
74 reviews976 followers
March 17, 2009
On the surface, Rabbit, Run is about a guy who runs around on his son and pregnant wife, and ends up living with a prostitute. Real interesting, right? Actually, yes. Because the characters come to life and they’re struggling with their own moral weaknesses and existential problems -- their problems and interactions are truly believable. So this is an interesting story, because Updike can write, and he pulls it off.

But first, I must explain why my rating is only 3 stars (or, 3 and a half, really).

Never, at any point in my life, have I been good with concrete details.. No, let me rephrase that: Never, at any point in my life, have I been anything other than poor with concrete details. Little details that people notice -- the small visual treasures appreciated by most -- are often lost upon me. My sense of direction is embarrassing. My mechanical abilities are almost nonexistent. The color and types of friend's cars, the outer appearance of houses... all of them, I'm typically oblivous to.

But I'm quite happy immersing myself in the world of my head; the world of figuring things out, of daydreaming, and the like. That's where I'm comfortable. I retreat into my head naturally and easily -- it's where I typically choose to live when given the choice. But.... if I really try -- I mean, if I really put in the effort -- I can sometimes get myself to the point of noticing, engaging with, and appreciating outer details. But it takes effort. Massive, draining effort.

Updike is amazing with these concrete details -- the simple but beautiful aesthetics of every day living. It's just damn difficult for me to keep my focus on these things, whether through actual experience, or through reading. If you're a great appreciator of these subtleties, it's hard to see how you wouldn't reach an almost joyous state from Updike's deft attention to detail. At times, even for me, he made time stop. Right there, in the moment, I was in the car when Rabbit drove off; I was at dinner with Rabbit and his friends... I saw what he saw. But it rarely lasted long -- I lost my focus too easily.

Updike is great with characters, too. Even if you don't like them (and his main characters are difficult to like) you understand them, and because they're human, you care for them. Rabbit is certainly not likable. In the beginning of the book, Rabbit drives off. He's headed to Florida. He didn't plan it; he just suddenly realized that he had enough with his life -- he didn't like his wife; he didn't want responsibility anymore, so he just impulsively decides to drive off, without telling anyone. Tell me, is that not tempting as hell? To just drive right past whatever obligations you may have and run away towards freedom. But you know you can't do that, if not for moral reasons, then because of the consequences that stem from doing such a thing. Rabbit doesn't get this. He goes through life without thinking of the consequences of his actions -- he lives in the moment, and feeds and acts out of his own quick, selfish motives. Or, as Updike puts it in one sentence, "He likes things to happen of themselves." But you know, this outlook, this philosophy -- these actions: they don't work when you grow up and have certain responsibilities. You can't get along in life by feeding your selfish desires all the time. It just doesn't work, and Rabbit still hasn't gotten that, and he -- and those in his family -- are affected by it, heavily.

To quickly continue with the characters: I personally didn't like Rabbit's wife Janice, either (and I think most would agree). I kind of liked Ruth, the "hooer" (Rabbit's word) that Rabbit moved in with -- she's your classic hard shell, secretly soft-hearted kind of person. brian (dude, am I really not supposed to capitalize the "B" in your name?) said that he liked her in his review. I, personally though, liked Pastor Eccles best: The guy tries so hard to make things work for others. He has this need to solve things -- to make things right. That resonated with me.

Even with seemingly shallow characters such as Rabbit, Updike manages to show that they do have a level of depth, and he brings out that depth expertly. Existential issues in general, haunt us all from time to time, and Updike articulates this personal inner struggle like the pro that he is. His writing manages to articulate and combine these with the animal instincts we all have -- that fight between our spiritual yearning and our instinctive animal elements. Sometimes, he even manages to pull if off in the very same paragraph as his descriptions of everyday beauty. Check this out:

"Eccles sits by the window of Kruppenbach's den on an oak-backed choir pew left over from some renovation. Seated on the bench he feels an adolescent compulsion to pray but instead peers across the valley at the green fragments of the golf course where he would like to be, with Harry. Eccles has found other partners either better or worse than he; only Harry is both, and only Harry gives the game a desperate gaiety, as if they are together engaged in an impossible question set by a benevolent but absurd lord, a quest whose humiliations sting them almost to tears but one that is renewed at each tee, in a fresh flood of green. And for Eccles there is an additional hope, a secrete determination to trounce Harry. He feels that the thing that makes Harry unsteady, that makes him unable to repeat his beautiful effortless swing every time, is the thing at the root of all the problems that he has created; and that by beating him decisively he, Eccles, will get on top of this weakness, this flaw, and hence solve the problems. In the meantime there is the pleasure of hearing Harry now and then cry, 'Hey, hey,' or 'I love it, love it!' Their rapport at moments attains for Eccles a pitch of pleasure, a harmless ecstasy, that makes the world with its vicious circumstantiality seem remote and spherical and green."

It's good for me to read Updike. Doing so addresses -- and therefore improves upon -- my weaknesses with concrete details. I plan on reading a Rabbit book a year. This way, as I grow and look back upon Rabbit's changes in behavior, I can look at mine as well. I hope to see us both growing. Who knows, I may even have a wife and kids by the time I get to Rabbit at Rest.


brian has written of Updike almost perfectly in the plethora of his Updike reviews. If you're considering reading Updike, or just interested in his style and why he has such a sound literary reputation, check out brian's reviews, here

Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,080 reviews619 followers
September 25, 2022
I really didn't like this book. In fact I got to about half way and gave up in despair. I’d really wanted to like it – to love it, in fact – and so I was really disappointed to have to abandon it.

I'm a big fan of American literature and gobble up books by Auster, Roth, Wolfe, Franzen and even Salinger, as well as any number of contemporary thriller writers. In fact, I've struggled with the work of very few authors from the States, with only DeLillo springing readily to mind. So I was confident I'd relish a book described by some critics as the best American post-war novel.

For those who have no knowledge of this book I’ll give a brief introduction. Published in 1960 it tells of a 26 year old former high school basketball star, Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom, who decides one day to run off and abandon his pregnant wife and young child. After driving all night he eventually finds himself back in his home city where he looks up his former coach. This leads to a meeting with a part-time prostitute who provides a temporary home for him. That’s pretty much where I gave up – well, in truth I ploughed on a little further but nothing much happened and after an excruciatingly dull section I was wrestled into submission.

Now don't get me wrong, there's a certain lyrical rhythm to the prose and some of the sentences were extremely well crafted by a writer who obviously knew have to link words together. There were short sections that I quite enjoyed, but these were consistently followed by long rambling paragraphs that just switched me off.

In concept, Rabbit himself is an actually an interesting character. He clearly dislikes his current life and can't escape the feeling that there's something better out there waiting for him, if only he can find it. There’s a feeling that his best years are already behind him, but still… why should he settle for his current mundane existence with a spouse who drinks her days away and now clearly irritates him. So what is it that failed to ignite any passion in this tale for me? I think it was the feeling of depression that imbued the whole thing, together with a preponderance of conversations and situations that just seemed to go nowhere. I didn't actually like Rabbit much (I'd guess I wasn't supposed to) but this also meant I didn't really care what became of him. And there was something about the period and the place that felt too unfamiliar, too unexciting – though I do think this would have been different for a reader who had more familiarity with either, or both.

Rabbit is interested in women – very interested – and there’s quite a bit of commentary on his thoughts about just about every female he comes into contact with. Most of them lustful and very descriptive. He’s also a Christian and his meetings with Jack Eccles, a young Episcopal priest who tries to re-unite him with his wife, were some of the best sections. But I just kept thinking that if only he'd continued driving... that would be a book I'd rather read: a road tale or a story of a young man finding new experiences in a strange town miles from home. I just didn't like the way he (partially) gave up, driving back to where he came from to continue his life amongst the same people in the same place.

Anyway, I think I’ll be in the minority but my overall feeling is that this book is a big ‘miss’ for me. My one star rating reflects my failure to finish it.
Profile Image for Lea.
891 reviews192 followers
November 17, 2018
I read "Rabbit is Rich", the third book in the 4 book Rabbit-series almost ten years ago. I got it in the library in Copenhagen and didn't know it wasn't a stand alone. I loved the book and promised myself I'd read all four novels and start from the beginning. I was in a weird headspace at the time and somehow John Updike didn't seem like a priority, so he took a backseat.

I don't really mind having waited to read the first in the series now, because I got to read it now and I absolutely loved it!

This novel is about Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a 26-year old (which apparently in the 50s already made him something of a crypt-keeper), unlikeable man trapped in a job he hates that pays badly and an unhappy marriage and a son and another child on the way, reminiscing about his glory days of being good at basketball. One day he up and leaves and starts having an affair with Ruth, a part-time prostitute, as they try to mold each other into people they both aren't. I don't want to spoil the ending, but one thing to me is very clear: I did not love this book because of its story but because of the way it's told and its characters. I strongly dislike Rabbit and I'm always so impressed when an author managed to write very flawed characters that feel very human and real.

I think the only downside for me was reading this during nanowrimo, while writing a very horrible novel that I'll probably never look at again. Here John Updike does everything I fail at: telling a story that feels completely un-forced and real in an unpretentious style that is both engaging and easy to read. It's definitely in the "ugh, this is so good, I'll never be able to do THAT" category.

I don't feel I'm capable of doing this novel justice right now, so I'll just stop and use this as a reminder to read the other Rabbit novels and not wait another decade to do so. I'm also curious to read other Updike novels, I'm a bit overwhelmed by the amount.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,049 reviews4,116 followers
March 12, 2012
Something of a masterpiece, this first in the trilogy of five explores the universal themes of domestic humdrummery, fidelity, and the repercussions of discarded dreams. The titular Rabbit is a compelling portrayal of a now somewhat stock character, the coulda-been-a-contender (in this case basketball) bounced into a life of McJobs, dowdy small-town wives, and unwanted children. Updike’s novel is the best depiction of this soap-opera conceit I have read: he transforms every banal scene into something riveting and moving and sexy and wrenching. His dialogue, character nuance, sex scenes and melodramatic moments glisten with pearly descriptive gems and metaphors, and utilise a close third-person partial SoC narrative that adds dramatic heft to his characters’ reflections. Rabbit is a brilliant creation—philandering bastard, all-too-human everyman, Hamlet-like dilly-dallier, tender lover and Mersault-like drifter. And the surrounding characters, esp. Joyce, the tormented daddy’s-girl and alcoholic, are equally stunning. I can’t wait for book number two. *runs to Rabbit*
Profile Image for Makis Dionis.
487 reviews120 followers
August 29, 2020
Καταπληκτική πρόζα αλα Χένρι Μίλερ, ισοπεδώνει όλα τα στερεότυπα της μεταπολεμικής Αμερικής κ δίνει νέα διάσταση στην έννοια της ελευθερίας
Profile Image for Tracy  .
794 reviews12 followers
December 10, 2022
Updike often described his writing as giving "the mundane its beautiful due," and he certainly does a masterful job of doing just that with Rabbit, Run (Rabbit Quartet, #1).

The book - and series - revolves around 26-year-old Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom who rebels against what is expected of a (stereotypical) white, middle-class male such as himself. A spoiled child, and ex-high school basketball star, Harry is used to being revered, enabled, and getting his way.

After marrying his pregnant girlfriend Harry cannot accept that life no longer revolves solely around him, and that it entails holding a job, coparenting, and being monogamous. So... without giving it a second thought, he simply walks away from the situation in pursuit of greener pastures (ie, women, drinking, and people who will enable his selfish and misogynistic behavior). Disturbingly raw and authentic, this is definitely a thinking persons novel.

Narrator, Arthur Morey's performance is flawless. He seamlessly bings Harry's character to life in my imagination with his pitch perfect conveyance of Harry's mix of emotions - anger, indifference, impatience, sorrow, etc. Kudos.

Special thanks Jon Nakapalau for yet another great recommendation.
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