Are we reading the same thing?

12 Jul

About a year ago, I saw a lot of references to John Updike’s novel Rabbit, Run, all extolling just how brilliant it was. Intrigued, I decided to pick up a copy and read it. Boy, was I disappointed.

As I ask above, I had to wonder if we were reading the same thing. The book did open with promise. The description of Rabbit insinuating himself into a children’s game of basketball was a perfect meditation on loss and the disappointment of adulthood for childhood achievers. Had it been a short story, I would have definitely recommended it. (Updike was a short story writer prior to writing the novel.) But, other than two or three brief flashes of something interesting, the rest of the book failed to live up to that promise.

Perhaps the worst thing about it was that the writing was passable. There are novels that are as badly written as they are plotted that are easy to throw aside and there are novels that are badly written, but which contain good ideas – these are the real disappointments as, often, you can’t finish them, but you really wish they’d live up to their potential. Then, there are novels like this where the writing itself is okay, but the story is dire. encouraging you to keep on reading in the hope it will pick up, only it never does.

Updike possessed the technical skills to write a good novel, but this wasn’t it. I really can’t see what other people love about it. I’m not saying they’re wrong – taste is subjective – but whatever it is escapes me. It may be that his other novels would be a better fit for me, but I won’t be trying them – I’ve got far too many books to read as it is, without adding more on a vain off-chance! I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, but there’s always a chance it will be to your taste.

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One Response to “Are we reading the same thing?”

  1. Daniel Douglas' Blog July 14, 2017 at 2:23 am #

    As you say, taste is subjective. I read and loved all of Updike’s Rabbit novels. I will say the last two “Rabbit is Rich,” and “Rabbit at Rest,” are the best in the series. And I do think Updike was a better and more natural short story writer than a novelist. But the Rabbit novels, for me, paid a kind of homage to the midwestern, suburban life of a kind of America that is thought to have existed in the 50s but probably never did. Updike wrote it I think in the year after Kerouac’s “The Road,” in which a man escapes the trappings of traditional life by leaving. I think I read somewhere that Updike wanted to tell the story of the guy that had to turn around and go back home.

    Anyway, you tried! It’s not a book that speaks to you. If you ever do decide to dip back into Updike, I would go with his early to middle period short stories. Those, to my taste, are as good as it gets.

    Cheers,
    Dan

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