Two books. Ten years apart. What’s interesting is the gap — in it, the disintegration of America. What’s ironical is that when Updike, proud child of the 50s, king of successes, writing for the New Yorker, wunderkind, 28, like me but with more wunder wrote Rabbit, the disintegration (what has been called elsewhere the Great Disruption) hadn’t yet happened — oh, though, clearly, some deep unsettling was stirring in Rabbit’s heart —
See, who was Updike? Never cool — played it by the book — not Rabbit, surely not Rabbit — which explains the caricatures, but also explains the way in which Updike may very well have gotten it wrong — big jock like that, never had that whore in Texas suck his cock for him? Updike, Valedictorian, skin covered in exczema, going off to Harvard, making a go at it at the Harvard Lampoon, doing a stint studying cartooning at, well, what the hell, Oxford University, then back to New York, oh, may as well write for the New Yorker — aren’t you talented, aren’t you special, shame about the skin condition, would you like a blowjob with that, Mr. Updike?
Weirdo, man, had a deep crisis of faith, but his resolved, which explains this crazy-daisy apologism, this, look at me, God is Here, God is somewhere, can’t see him, can’t hear him, but maybe you can feel him, deep in your heart —
Sure, I say, call it God. But on second thought, don’t call it God, whole lot of baggage wrapped up in that business.
So there’s Rabbit running, 27, about, my age, Updike’s age, a prude, like me, like Updike, but a jock, not like me, I assume not like Updike, not that bright, again a difference, but lusty, sort of, earthy, sort of, but not really — hopelessly square — played by the rules — a White American Male, who never asked to be any of those three — the Poor Sharecropper King of the Universe, the great Hoi Polloi, finally inheriting the earth.
And he earned it right? Bleeding through the Ardenne? Guts on the sandy floor of Normandy. (Mentioned in Rabbit Redux — Rabbit was twelve when it happened – was his dad there? Don’t know — too old?)
Who is John Updike? He’s my grandparents generation for sure, pre-Pill, so you bang, condoms are there, but aren’t proper, diaphraghms are there, but aren’t proper, I mean you love it — born in 1932. The Jones Generation. See, the thing with Updike is Jack Kerouac was ten years older than him, and while John was away at Harvard doing his thing and getting ready for Oxford, Kerouac was already out man — shivering, arrested as a witness to a murder at a young 22, in 1944, when Updike was sitting at home, maybe learning about masturbation, listening to Normandy on the radio — you know, and then, as Updike finished high school, Kerouac was out not just trying weed but enjoying it, this in the stifling ’50s, while Updike just went the other way.
One imagines Updike had less sex, though I think, it’s clear, he eventually figured it out, and gave old Mary Pennington a time of it, and I imagine he was ultimately the better lover than Jack, especially when one considers that Jack was in his grave by ’69, and probably hadn’t been much of a lover before then. Nevertheless, Rabbit is the story of a man who’s scared to dare, who’s scared to reap the whirlwind, but then somehow finds himself put out, and oh, Teenage Male Wish Fulfillment, here’s a sweet young hippie who’s ready to take him in her mouth, here’s a swinging hip black dude who’s willing to rap about Slavery & Vietnam — here’s some maryjane to inhale slowly, in front of your wide-eyed child — what are you doing to that kid, man, so that kid is my Daddy, no wonder he speaks softly, his parents were silently freaking out —
The Great Disruption.
And then of course, tragedy strikes, life reasserts itself, Rabbit goes back to his rabbithole. In the first one, he runs out the door, Trapped. In the second, after much recirculations, and much changed, and having killed a lover-daughter, squared the moral balance with strange stupid Janice, We All Everybody Are Guilty of This Thing or That Thing, We are Protestants, We Are Doomed, We Are All Saved by Grace Alone, wasp, you dirty racist wasp, you’re just saying that “you got here first” and “maybe there are reasons to be in Vietnam,” yeah, man, none worth having, you can’t save people, America, Rabbit, John, yes, in that moment, Presiding over the Great Disruption, watching your precious little racist wet-dream both fall apart and kill those youths who fight against it, even while the last remaining gasp of Kennedy’s Dream touches down on the surface of another world, saying One Small Step for Man, you go to a fleabag motel with your estranged wife and crawl into bed and lay your flacid penis in the soft valley of her buttocks, and say O.K. and summon Joyce, and I’ll give you one thing, you’re not Joyce, but there is a certain stamina and a certain wonder in creating a doppelganger self and returning to him once every ten years —
Oh well — maybe I just don’t know what it’s like to be cynical at 38. And it’s an old 38, because the first Rabbit was already a father, one time, two times, three times, the great font of life, summoning forth the imaginary into the real —
And nevertheless, remains the narcissist. Head clouded. Doesn’t know what to do. Sad lost American Male, trapped in his flesh, trapped in his decaying town, This Country was Great, even though it was built on the backs of Tonto and Sambo — makes you want to chuck the whole thing.
Makes me want to chuck the whole thing. The question is not whether law is necessarily moral — the question is whether it ever can be moral? Higher level morality. Justified by necessity. But the Crits — our property-based economy which exploits everything — slaves everywhere — Skeeter saying America could have gone another way — Lincoln maybe would have done it different — the Revolution of ’76, when the Corrupt Bargain freed the South, and the Military moved on to strike-busting.
No wonder that 50 years later the world would tear itself apart? Marx — maybe — freedom? A joke.
Rabbit laid off at 38. At 28, he was quitting. Find something else. Just wanted to dig that great big glowy sunlight. Rabbit, Run is what Kundera called Lyric. Rabbit Redux whatever Kundera called the other — epic, maybe? Makes sense. Of course Updike most likely wanted Rabbit, Run to be Epic writing about Lyric, parody, we’re not really supposed to like Rabbit, are we, I mean, he’s a huge asshole in the first book, refusing to take any responsibility, refusing, utterly refusing, and going on his washed out ten years later, five years later neo-Kerouac vacation, just for a second, before he goes back to his suburban life —
(Updike says he wrote Rabbit, Run as a response to On the Road, to show that when an American family man runs people get hurt — yeah, maybe, John, or maybe he should have stayed gone — haven’t read the other two but I imagine the argument will always be Stay with Your Wife. Maybe. Maybe not. Definitely not Always. Lost Jill. Bad remarriage. Her daddy died. Evil stepfather. Wants out. Rabbit — trying to be a father to these kids — even as he fucks her. Staring at the crotch in everybody’s underpants.)
Not a man who has the courage of his convictions. A tourist. Wants to see what all the young kids are talking about. He comes upon a bunch of kids playing basketball and wants to take a shot.
A gameplayer. A rule follower. Liked math. The implicit certainty. It quiets the soul. (Law may be that — certainty in an uncertain world. The quieting of the soul.) And then — Rabbit colors outside the lines. Tragedy ensues. He returns. Returns to his cage. In Kindergarden, our class had a rabbit — I forget its name — I got to take it home for one weekend — and I remember Moms, being grossed out by the shit at the bottom of the cage — one imagines that the rabbit did not see it.
Angstrom. Oh. It’s a very very small unit of length. Oh. The Small Measure. Clever, John. Clever.
When I’ve read the other two, I’ll read this: