Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

Rabbit is not, by any means, the kind of character or the kind of person I would choose to spend much time with, but this was a book club book, so I was obligated. And it was time usefully spent. I wasn't sad to see Rabbit go (this is a compliment to Updike not a criticism; he must know that his character is a jerk and he did a good job of creating said jerk), but I was struck by just how good many of Updike's observations were. The novel is third person, mostly limited to Rabbit's point of view though there are occasional, half-hearted forays into that of his wife, and one necessary foray into that of the kid who watches Rabbit collapse in the end. And despite or perhaps because of, Rabbit's bad habits, he is a very good point of view character. Especially in older age his observations on the United States, pop culture, parade crowds, all of it... are poignant and compelling. I've been thinking lately about distinctions between what third person narrators say versus what the characters think, and in this case, there is no sense that the narrator is anybody but Rabbit. There's no stepping away to judge Rabbit from an outside objective perspective and that's probably necessary with a character like Rabbit who would be so easy to judge (he cheats on his wife with his daughter-in-law!). It's more interesting, I guess, to have to form my own judgements and in the end, to perhaps give him some forgiveness.

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