RABBIT AT REST by John Updike
Kirkus Star


A Novel
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Updike finishes up his Rabbit tetralogy here, with retired Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom in Florida half the year and then back in Pennsylvania--late in 1989: the last year of Rabbit's life, it turns out. His son Nelson has become a cocaine addict and has run the family Toyota dealership irretrievably to ground. Wife Janice is having late stirrings of independence, studying for a real-estate license. But Harry effectively is beyond the social net: his days are colored by rays of doom, melancholy, desuetude--a winding-down he fights mostly with the only appetite still strong in him, a taste for terrible junk food. The candy, salty snacks, and fried foods he stuffs into himself--Updike's prose about this orgy of junk-eating is unforgettably un judging--bring on two heart attacks. Between them, Harry's other strongest life-force briefly and unexpectedly kicks in as well, involving a one-night mutual consolation, in bed, with Nelson's wife Pru. This central indiscretion is what powers the little plot there is in the book. It is the symbol of Rabbit-in-life, of accumulation and unearned grace (as the junk-food closing up his arteries is the symbol of his impending death, dispersal). Sex, in Updike, is as much youth as anything, what always will be young; Pm says as much to Harry afterwards. And Updike's style is eternally young too--as dour and down as Rabbit is feeling, the book is a grabbing gluttony of detail, about Florida and Pennsylvania and angiography and golf and modern car radios and motels and TV programs. This crazed, immoderately layered glare of specifics is, in some ways, unmeet in a book of farewell. But it is absolutely true to the slightly amoral, excessive, hungry spirit of the Rabbit series. Updike knows it, tying up loose ends from the earlier books in little elegant cinches, making references and in-jokes; it is sometimes more a book about the other books than a wholly interesting thing in itself. But it ends the project very movingly and justly with the ebb-tide slackness of age and the body's treachery and the spirit's unwillingness to surrender youth. It caps a remarkable and unique achievement no other American writer has really pulled off. These try to be--and largely succeed in being--national books. Balzac would have been impressed.
Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1990
ISBN: 0449911942
Page count: 586pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1990


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