RABBIT IS RICH

A NOVEL

Should Updike's longer fiction prove truly lasting, it may well be in the form of the Rabbit novels—if only because they will so precisely tell future generations what the aging, late-20th-century industrial East of the US was like in sight, smell, sound, and social economy. But why are these novels so interesting to today's readers, for whom the mirror-like sociological surfaces are only a minor attraction? It's their riskiness—the risks that Updike takes in subordinating his supple, reedy intelligence to the far-different Rabbit, an innocent when young (in Run), confused by the Sixties (Redux), and now, in 1979, an incipient Archie Bunker. Legatee to his dead father-in-law's Toyota dealership (doing superbly in 1979, year of the gas-lines), Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom is 46, living again with wife Janice—her ex-lover Charlie Stavros is now Rabbit's co-worker and good friend—in her mother's Brewer, Pa. house. But Rabbit's having trouble with son Nelson, 23: the kid has brought a girl back from college with him—and there's yet another girl, left behind (and pregnant), whom he'll soon have to marry. Nelson's plight, to his father's eyes, seems pathetic, spoiled, distasteful (too much like young Rabbit's messiness?). After all, Rabbit is now "rich." He reads Consumer Reports, even while Janice is initiating lovemaking (a heavy-handed scene, as are such other sexual/economic images as Rabbit's placing Kruggerands on Janice's nipples). He's a golfer at a country club for "a class of young middle-aged that has arisen in the retail business and service industries." He even plays sexual swapsies on a Caribbean vacation. And Rabbit "sees his life as just beginning, on clear ground at last, now that he has a margin of resources, and the stifled terror that always made him restless has dulled down. He wants less. Freedom, that he always thought was outward motion, turns out to be this inner dwindling." Thus death, plenary, is always on his mind: he searches out Ruth, the prostitute he briefly lived with in Run, in quest of a possible daughter they may have had together; though Nelson's a pain, he at least bequeathes to Rabbit a granddaughter; and the book's most luminous scene is Rabbit and Janice telling her old mother that they've bought a house of their own and are therefore clearing out of hers. Yet the book, tugged at by the gravity of age, is stalled at its heart. Rabbit's innocence doesn't feel storm-tossed enough; if Redux was slightly too operatic, far-fetched, Rich is too placidly striated. Moments are marvelous—a Sunday afternoon sunset at the country club, telling a mildly amusing story only to have it picked to death by interruptions—but some also seem tiredly obligatory (e.g., a catalogue-aria of a guest bathroom that's too reminiscent in purpose and angle to the drugstore inventory in Redux). And Updike's larruping, clausal sentences double the book back on itself tightly—perhaps to suggest Rabbit's new safe burgher-ness, but perhaps, too, because of a lack of real energy. Still, whatever its limitations as a narrative, this is commanding work from a writer whose great, wide intelligence is probably unrivaled in American fiction: Rabbit lives, if perhaps a bit less vitally now, and most serious readers will want to keep track of him.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 1981

ISBN: 0449911829

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1981

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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