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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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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