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Rabbit at Rest by John Updike
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Rabbit at Rest (1990)

by John Updike

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Rabbit at Rest is the fourth and final installment of the tetralogy written by John Updike, featuring as its protagonist, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. This book follows Rabbit Run, Rabbit Redux and Rabbit is Rich which follow the life of Angstrom in his hometown of Mt. Judge, near Brewster, Pennsylvania. When we left Rabbit at the conclusion of Rabbit is Rich, he has settled into a comfortable middle class lifestyle as the successful owner (through his wife Janice) and operator of a Toyota dealership in Brewster. He is a country club member and a pillar of the community, experiencing some mid-life crises, mainly having to do with his ne’er-do-well, college-aged Nelson with whom he has a running conflict.

Rabbit at Rest finds Angstrom roughly ten years later, semi-retired and spending winters in Florida with his wife Janice while Nelson runs the family dealership.

The time frame is the late 80s, George Bush, the elder, is President, and cocaine is the drug of choice. Most of the action centers upon Rabbit’s dysfunctional relationship with his son and the resulting conflict which necessarily develops between he, his wife and daughter-in-law as the prodigal son systematically destroys the family legacy. Rabbit’s declining health and his relationship with his grandchildren are also story lines.

While much of the writing is entertaining and very well done, it must be noted that at times, Updike seems to fly off on wild screeds of florid, almost unintelligible prose that leave the reader simply rolling his eyes. In fact, I found this annoying trait to be far more common in this installment than in the previous three. I lost count of the number of ways Updike describes the smells and tastes of female body parts in various states of arousal.

Nevertheless, the characters contained in the story are well presented and fleshed out beautifully, even some of the more peripheral players. All in all, this is a fascinating look at life during the late 80s, from the perspective of a middle class, Pennsylvania family, though Rabbit and his circumstances can hardly be viewed as representative. In fact, each of the four installments acts as an in-depth look at American society, and taken as whole give an accurate depiction of American life and societal mores from the late 50s through 1990. As such, the series is quite instructive, immensely entertaining and for someone of my generation, quite reflective. ( )
  santhony | Jul 8, 2013 |
God! Don't make me read another of these books! ( )
  WinstonDog | Apr 4, 2013 |
1 of 18 books for $10 today 5.12.2012
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
The last book in the Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom series. I enjoyed this one, although towards the end I felt the vitality of the characters started to decline -- perhaps to reflect Rabbit's own decline.

Rabbit, Run and Rabbit at Rest are the strongest and most compelling in the series -- too bad they bookend the lesser-quality Rabbit Redux and Rabbit is Rich books.

I am still convinced that John Updike is one of the best out there. ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Jul 18, 2012 |
As the title suggest, Rabbit at Rest is about death. It is obsessed with death, Updike's love song to it. He lovingly details Rabbit's aging and increasing frailty, from his clogged arteries and heart disease, to his decreasing sexual appetite, to his bathroom habits and his nostril hairs. He makes snide remarks about bodily functions practically every other sentence (which would be almost funny if it weren't just kind of sad and pathetic). He harps on such mundane aspects of life as if they had some metaphysical significance---or perhaps to insinuate that nothing does, which comes to the same thing. He writes things like (in this case, describing radio): "We are noisy vermin, crowding even the air." (Updike is basically a misanthrope with a flair for turning a phrase.) He writes that all material existence is sad because transitory, and there is no other kind.

While this is all very wrong and unpleasant, there is a kind of internal unity and artistic integrity to it, and in places he seems almost as sincere as he did back at the beginning of the series in Rabbit, Run. Unfortunately, as the series progresses, it becomes increasingly about Rabbit's son Nelson, who is an even less sympathetic character and not nearly as interesting. I spent most of this book just waiting for Rabbit to die. But, if you've made it this far, all the way through Rabbit Redux and Rabbit is Rich, you may as well read this and finish the series off, as this is better than those were (but still not as good as the first). ( )
  AshRyan | Feb 19, 2012 |
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Epigraph
Rabbit basks above that old remembered world, rich, at rest.
                        —Rabbit Is Rich.
Food to the indolent person is poison, not sustenance.
                        —Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
Dedication
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Standing amid the tan, excited post-Christmas crowd at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport, Rabbit Angstrom has a funny sudden feeling that what he has come to meet, what's floating in unseen about to land, is not his son Nelson and daughter-in-law Pru and their two children but something more ominous and intimately his: his own death, shaped vaguely like an airplane.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0449911942, Paperback)

It's 1989, and Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom feels anything but restful. In fact he's frozen, incapacitated by his fear of death--and in the final year of the Reagan era, he's right to be afraid. His 55-year-old body, swollen with beer and munchies and racked with chest pains, wears its bulk "like a set of blankets the decades have brought one by one." He suspects that his son Nelson, who's recently taken over the family car dealership, is embezzling money to support a cocaine habit.

Indeed, from Rabbit's vantage point--which alternates between a winter condo in Florida and the ancestral digs in Pennsylvania, not to mention a detour to an intensive care unit--decay is overtaking the entire world. The budget deficit is destroying America, his accountant is dying of AIDS, and a terrorist bomb has just destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 above Lockerbie, Scotland. This last incident, with its rapid transit from life to death, hits Rabbit particularly hard:

Imagine sitting there in your seat being lulled by the hum of the big Rolls-Royce engines and the stewardesses bring the clinking drinks caddy... and then with a roar and giant ripping noise and scattered screams this whole cozy world dropping away and nothing under you but black space and your chest squeezed by the terrible unbreathable cold, that cold you can scarcely believe is there but that you sometimes actually feel still packed into the suitcases, stored in the unpressurized hold, when you unpack your clothes, the dirty underwear and beach towels with the merciless chill of death from outer space still in them.
Marching through the decades, John Updike's first three Rabbit novels--Rabbit, Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), and Rabbit Is Rich (1981)--dissect middle-class America in all its dysfunctional glory. Rabbit at Rest (1990), the final installment and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, continues this brilliant dissection. Yet it also develops Rabbit's character more fully as he grapples with an uncertain future and the consequences of his past. At one point, for example, he's taken his granddaughter Judy for a sailing expedition when his first heart attack strikes. Rabbit gamely navigates the tiny craft to shore--and then, lying on the beach, feels a paradoxical relief at having both saved his beloved Judy and meeting his own death. (He doesn't, not yet.) Meanwhile, this all-American dad feels responsible for his son's full-blown drug addiction but incapable of helping him. (Ironically, it's Rabbit's wife Janice, the "poor dumb mutt," who marches Nelson into rehab.)

His misplaced sense of responsibility--plus his crude sexual urges and racial slurs--can make Rabbit seems less than lovable. Still, there's something utterly heroic about his character. When the end comes, after all, it's the Angstrom family that refuses to accept the reality of Rabbit's mortality. Only Updike's irreplaceable mouthpiece rises to the occasion, delivering a stoical, one-word valediction: "Enough." --Rob McDonald

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:51:35 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Ex-basketball player Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom has acquired heart trouble, a second grandchild, and he is looking for a reason to live.

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