Rabbit, Run, by John Updike (not to be muddled with Upton Sinclair as I often do), has a simple enough plot. Rabbit leaves his alcoholic and pregnant wife Janice, and shacks up with a young woman Ruth for two months. A pastor Eccles befriends him in the hope of convincing him to do the ‘right’ thing. I won’t go into the ending, but in short, everyone is miserable and worse off than they were to begin with.
I disliked all the characters. I found Eccles the least awful. I admire his desire to have an amiable outcome, and his empathy, but I was frustrated by his fence sitting. I did not pity Janice, because she was an alcoholic. I did not empathise with Rabbit, because while I understand his wife was unbearable to live with, he was just as despicable by leaving his child with her. I hate Rabbit for his need for control and adoration. He often talks about how lovable he is, which is an arrogant delusion. He tried to control the women around him emotionally and physically. He did not have any respect for anyone, or the ability to empathise with others.
After I finished Rabbit, Run I Googled it so see if I was ‘supposed’ to hate everyone in it. According to Wikipedia, it was written in response to Kerouac’s On the Road “to depict ‘what happens when a young American family man goes on the road – the people left behind get hurt’” . I certainly think Updike made his point, and wins the debate in my mind. This is no surprise given by feelings for On The Road. I cannot understand what The Washington post was thinking: “…By his compassion, clarity of insight and crystal-bright prose, he makes Rabbit’s sorrow his and our own.” I do not believe Updike had any compassion for Rabbit, nor were Rabbit’s actions portrayed as understandable, relatable, or forgivable.
While I did not enjoy Rabbit, Run, I do think it was very powerful, and would recommend it. It seems many readers on Amazon feel the same. It makes me feel anger, which very few books have. This is not a side of my emotional repertoire I indulge in my personal life and so dislike experiencing recreationally, but certainly this does not discredit Updike’s skill as an author.