Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
(Spoilers of the first two books abound)
While reading Rabbit is Rich, I often wondered why this book won the Pulitzer Prize, especially since nothing major seemed to be happening in it. But by the end of the book, I think I figured it out, and it's BECAUSE nothing really major happened that it won the prestigious award. By this point in Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom's tale, we've seen him desert his wife, lose a home, and even lose a baby. And in this third book, which deals with him in his mid-40s, I expected all the trappings of a midlife crisis novel. Getting the motorcycle. Shacking up with another hooker. That sort of thing. But what we get instead is a man who finally appears to be comfortable with himself and where he is in life, and why not? As the title proclaims, he's rich now. And like many of the circumstances of his life thus far, it seems unjustified. He really shouldn't be rich. I'm not going to go into why he's finally in a comfortable spot with his finances, but if you read the other two previous books, you can probably figure it out. It has something to do with a death in the family. I'll leave it at that.
Throughout the story, Rabbit is his normal, selfish self, but you actually don't hate him for it anymore. At least I didn't. There's growth in him, but it's a growth that I don't think the character even realizes, which is difficult as hell for any writer to do. Updike fully created a three dimensional character in Harry, whereas before, I think he kind of painted a facsimile of one in the first two books. This time, thought, I think I truly actually GOT Rabbit as a person, and that's why he is the way he is in this story. He's more a human being than he's ever been before.
There are also a lot of familiar faces from previous books in this entry, and it's both exciting and frightening to see them ten years older. One character in particular has changed a great deal (Nelson), and another, not so much (Janice). But in the end, I think the book paints a very intriguing story of growth and the lack thereof, and it works. Well, most of the time anyway. If there's one thing I didn't love about this book, it's that there really isn't any major event in the story to really push the characters to other places. Besides Nelson's story arc, the rest of the characters are pretty static. I'm sure that was the point--to paint middle age as not being a horror show, but rather, more like a nice settling in period if you allow it to be--but it doesn't make for the most interesting novel at times. That said, I enjoyed it for the most part, and I'm looking forward to the last official book, Rabbit at Rest. It's been an interesting journey.
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