©1996 John Updike; (P)2008 Random House
I became totally engrossed in this wonderful book.
It tells the story of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom who's now in his late thirties and has long since stopped running away from his marriage and other responsibilities. He shirks responsibility in another kind of way by being passive about everything around him. When Rabbit's wife has an affair she challenges him to make a stand and fight to get her back. Not only does he fail her in this but he then gets mixed up in what turns out to be a disastrous chain of events. With his wife gone he agrees to take in a young run away who becomes his lover, and she in turn brings in Skeeter, her black radical, dope shooting friend. Rabbit finds himself in the middle of a chaotic world that collapses around him. But despite the sad turn of events, Rabbit is somewhat transformed by his experiences with Skeeter, hence the Latin title word "redux" meaning restored,and life for Rabbit goes on.
The characters (with the exception perhaps of the too political Skeeter) are very convincing, and Rabbit himself is such an ordinary man who could well be our own neighbor. Another part of Updike's brilliance lies in his perceptive analysis of emotional interactions and in the language that is so rich in astute detail.
The narrator also enriched the whole Rabbit experience by acting out the different characters with distinct voices and he really brought this audiobook to life in my mind's eye.
It's probably best to listen to this Rabbit series in the correct order starting with 'Rabbit, Run' if you want to understand the characters and their backgrounds fully. But it's not an absolute must - so if you fancy this one first, go for it. I just can't get enough of Rabbit and don't want the series to end!
Rabbit Redux is compared unfavorably by the critics to the other Rabbit books. In my opinion, this is unfair. Updike's prose is uniformly smooth and rich. So apparently the critics don't like the content.
The book caputures the ethos of 1969--the peak and end of the Hippie Sixties. I was there. I was 12--the same age as Rabbit's son, Nelson. To me, that period was not the groovie barrel of fun Gen-X's think, rather it was often chaotic and terrifying. The world felt like it was going to heck in a handbag.
Updike caputures the zeitgeist. 18 year old rich girl Jill is the perfect rich hippie chick strung out on drugs. Nam vet Skeeter is a mix between a chicken hearted Black Panther and Charlie Manson, complete with pseudo-intellectual rants about how the Man is keeping the brothers down and needs to be shot.
Rabbit himself is a lazy whimp. He sees his world falling apart but would rather get stoned on Skeeter's pot. He could care less about his adulterous wife, and though he loves his son, he's hardly the model father in that he lets a strung out hippie chick and a sociopathic black guy take over his house.
Like most modernistic authors, there are no pure good guys or bad guys in this novel. Everyone is a dingy gray. And such is life.
I enjoyed Updike's lapidary prose and his faithful characterization of how the late 60s was the springboard for the ensuing decades's sins--sex, drugs, and money.
I would have given this novel 5 stars, but on several CD's the narrator makes mistakes and then say's "go back," which is apparently a signal to the producer to rewind the CD. The narrator can hardly be at fault for this, rather the producer needs a slap on the cheek for abandoning the helm.
Pitch perfect narration of this audiobook combines with the potent authorial voice Updike brings to his too-close-for-comfort examination of Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom to make this the rare sequel that is at least its predecessor's equal.
My only complaint (though it's kind of a medium, or maybe even big, one) is the appearance late in the novel of Rabbit's sister Mim. Not sure why I didn't buy it, but it felt wrong.
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