Updike's Rabbits

March 18: On this day in 1932, John Updike was born. In a writing career of almost fifty years, Updike's five Rabbit books stand out as a bell tolling, at decade intervals, for Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom and America. As Joyce Carol Oates puts it, the saga stands as Updike's "surpassingly eloquent valentine to his country, as viewed from the unique perspective of a corner of Pennsylvania."

 

That corner is Reading, Pa., where Updike was born, and nearby Shillington, where he lived until age thirteen. In Self-Consciousness, his 1989 memoir, Updike describes himself as a writer "who had all of Shillington to say, Shillington and Pennsylvania and the whole mass of middling, hidden, troubled America to say ... some terrible pressure of American disappointment, that would take a lifetime to sort out, particularize, and extol with the proper dark beauty." Updike was not anticipating writing a series when he began Rabbit, Run in 1959, but Harry had a lot of mileage in him right from the start, judging by Updike's enthusiasm for the writing:

As I sat at a little upright desk in a small corner room of the first house I owned, in Ipswich, Massachusetts, writing in soft pencil, the present-tense sentences accumulated and acquired momentum. It was a seventeenth-century house with a soft pine floor, and my kicking feet, during those excited months of composition, wore two bare spots in the varnish.

Harry's last run, near the end of Rabbit at Rest, last in the series, is to Florida—Harry believing that even Florida is better than Pennsylvania now that the family knows he has slept with his daughter-in-law. But in Florida, too, he is restless and grumpy: "On the evening news half the commercials are for laxatives and the other half for hemorrhoid medicine, as if only assholes watch the news." He tries to read history, to feel guilt, and to find God in the perfect golf shot—for Harry, says his son, "is such a fool he really believes there is a God he is the apple of the eye of." Whatever the afterlife for Rabbit, Rabbit at Rest was reviewed by Jonathan Raban as "one of the very few modern novels in English…that one can set beside the work of Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Joyce and not feel the draft."


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."