On Rabbit, Run
Tony Tanner, City of Words (1971)
Novel shows the ―individual cell‖ rebelling against the ―compromised environment.‖
Updike give just representation to those affected by Rabbit’s seeking.
Rabbit ―crowded,‖ but lacking in direction. He thinks he finds an ―opening,‖ then submits to the system.
Finally Rabbit faces ―a dense pack of impossible alternatives.‖
William H. Pritchard, Updike: America’s Man of Letters (2000)
Sex and death scenes ―unsettling‖ when novel was published, but ―that unsettling was
importantly a product of the way Updike wrote and of the moral perspective his writing gave—or
refused to give—on the book’s content.‖ (46) Some saw antihuman elements in the novel.
Present tense, third-person narration is said to provide ―immediacy,‖ but ―from the first
paragraph on there is a writerly presence here, making something out of Rabbit that he can’t make out of himself, on his own.‖ (49)
In Good Boys and Dead Girls (Viking, 1991), Mary Gordon argues that Updike and Rabbit see women as blocks to male freedom. Pritchard grants ―that the present-tense accounting of
Rabbit’s actions and words and thoughts makes it difficult if not impossible to measure the degree of Updike’s identification with or detachment from his hero.‖ (52)
Philip Stevick points up the novel’s lack of retrospection, with the result that ―events seem slightly dislocated and decontextualized, the characters more than a little fragile and vulnerable.‖ (cited, 54)
Pritchard does not see this as ―’crisis’ fiction notable for its portrait of the struggle between humanism and religion, with Rabbit as the inarticulate quester who believes in something he can't put into words." (56) That is, the novel is more ―evenhanded‖ than satiric or argumentative.
At the novel’s core is ―the sense of transience, of loss.‖ (61)
New Essays in Rabbit, Run, Stanley Trachtenberg, ed. (1993)
―Introduction,‖ Stanley Trachtenberg
Updike says he focused on ―the quotidian, whereas the generations older and younger than
mine have more economic and political in their orientations.‖ Written in a zig-zag patterns,
Reviewers put off by Updike’s neutrality toward Rabbit. Time called Rabbit a ―weak, sensual,
selfish and confused moral bankrupt,‖ and the novel contained ―relentless despair.‖ [Sensuality, not gender, the early issue with the novel.] Whitney Balliett, in The New Yorker, praised
Updike’s prose of ―precision, freshness and grace.‖ Balliett sees ―an unceasing flow of almost invariably surprising images, which he then molds into uncluttered phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pages that move with a sense of rhythm, timing, timbre, and volume that is impeccable.‖ (Two styles says Philip Stevik: virtuoso & banality.)
Original manuscript subtitled ―A Motion Picture,‖ for ―the movie has the strangeness of a natural landscape. Nothing seems to have been created; it just happens to be there.‖
Novel built on the tension of ―yes-but‖: ―yes in Rabbit, Run to our inner urgent whispers, but –
the social fabric collapses murderously.‖ Epigraph from Pascal – removed from Everyman
Updike grew up in Berks County, Pennsylvania. ―Ace in the Hole‖ written while Updike was a senior at Harvard.
Updike set himself against conventional plotting. ―I don’t think that life falls into plots. It does
not end quite the way books do. In that sense the bourgeois novel is a falsification of modern experience. So I believe that there are dead conventions and I’ve tried in my own way to shake free of them, and attend to the experiments of others.‖
Henry James: ―The whole of anything is never told; you can only take what groups together.‖ –
from undated notebook entry.