I first read Rabbit, Run by John Updike in college and remember loving it. A year or so ago one of my best reading buddies read all four of Updike’s Rabbit novels, with rave reviews. This made me start thinking that I needed to not only reread Rabbit, Run but complete the quartet as well. While I plan to do that, just rereading the first in the series – Rabbit, Run – made it made me want to share it with others. Hence this review.
26-year-old Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is feeling the weight of adulthood. His job, pregnant wife, and small child all demand his attention. One day as he’s walking home from work, he comes across a pickup game of basketball with a group of kids, and he can’t resist joining in. The conflict between reliving his glory days as a high school basketball star and his current adult responsibilities is too much for him. So, when he gets home and his wife sends him out to pick up their son, Rabbit runs.
Without giving too much of the plot away, Rabbit hooks up with a girl and ends up staying with her for a couple of months. He returns home when his wife gives birth, but is now really conflicted between two different lives. And his wavering between the two has tragic results for his family.
There are many reasons for people – and in particular women – not to like this novel. Rabbit is not a likable character. He’s an immature 20-something who is consumed by his sex drive and an unrealistic desire to escape the responsibilities of adulthood. The two primary female characters, Janice, Rabbit’s wife, and Ruth, his lover, are stereotypes that in their way, undermine and degrade women, allowing misogynistic men like Rabbit to thrive.
Nonetheless, Updike’s novel is brilliant. Its exploration of sex, gender, socioeconomic class, and yes marriage, provides rich commentary about society as well as expectations surrounding the home, family, extended family relationships, and even religion.
This novel put Updike on the map, in a literary sense, and is considered by some as one of the top 100 greatest novels ever written. Two of the books in the series were awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Updike became one of the most prolific writers of the 21st century and was a contributor to The New Yorker for more than 50 years.
So there is much to discuss in Rabbit, Run. If you have to like or empathize with a character, this may not be the book for you. But if you enjoy a snapshot in time that provides a wealth of social commentary, you’ll love not only reading this book but chatting about it with your best reading buddy.
Book Club Discussion Prompts for Rabbit Run
What redeeming qualities does Rabbit have, if any? What about others in the book? Are there characters that you feel sympathy for?
Updike offers his own commentary about some of the characters with their names. Which names do you think have special meaning?
In addition to the marriage between Rabbit and Janice, we see examples of marriage with each of their parents (the Springers and the Angstroms), the priest Eccles and his wife, and others. What types of marriages are they and what sort of commentary do they provide for middle-class America?
Are Janice and Ruth more similar or different? In what ways?
Rabbit receives advice from his former coach, Tothero, and Eccles. How is each of these men’s approaches similar and different? Is one more effective than the other?
Where do you think Rabbit is running to at the end of the book?
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