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Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

Rabbit at Rest (1990)

by John Updike

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Without a doubt, "Rabbit at Rest" is the best of the series. I did not want it to end.

In the opening scene Harry Angstrom is 55 years old and is feeling tired and used up. He is no longer remembered as Rabbit- champ of the local high school basketball team. In fact, he and Janice are spending the cold winter months in Florida, and it’s a trying challenge for Harry to play a decent golf game with the older Jewish crowd. Harry is overweight, out of shape, and ornery as ever.

Aside from his health issues, Harry is still having family problems. Janice has outlived the chauvinistic rituals and insists on having a career. And 32 year old Nelson? I don’t want to give away the entire plot but will say that Nelson is a mess. He’s running the Toyota dealership... that is- running it into the ground. And he is heavily into doing drugs.

"Rabbit at Rest" beautifully reflects the late 1980’s. There are lots of references to current events and cultural norms: the Florida snowbirds, shopping trends for cars, clothing and housing, drug use, and the medical industry.

Harry has a heart attack. His treatment and recovery- told from his own perspective- is both profound and amusing. And I imagine 25 years ago when the book was first published, and the angioplasty was a relatively new procedure, it made for interesting reading.

The most impressive thing about Updike’s writing is the dialogue which encompasses a huge portion of the story. His conversations with his grand-daughter are funny and insightful. They show a very caring, human side to Harry. He really does have a big heart under all his smutty, abrasive observations and the crude arrogant interaction he has with others.

His sexual appetite is the one thing that is consistent throughout the series. Harry is a man of uncontrollable urges and little self control. A lot of Harry’s behavior is shocking and unforgivable. He is so far out of control that it is hopeless to advocate for his redemption. By the end of the series, however, you can almost feel sorry for him.

It was a fascinating experience reading all the intimate details of a man’s personal life.
Looking back on the entire series, the first two books "Rabbit Run" and "Rabbit Redux" offered colorful images, but vague details. It was almost as though the older Rabbit was looking back on his past. The final two books, "Rabbit is Rich" and "Rabbit at Rest" seem to be in the here and now- alive and vibrant- bigger than life. Perhaps that is because Updike’s writing skills improved with each new story. Or maybe Harry Angstrom took on a life of his own… with intensity and passion the plot builds to a crescendo. Harry Rabbit Angstrom is one of the most authentic fictional characters I’ve ever encountered.

Thank you Mr. Updike.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and the National Book Award. ( )
  LadyLo | Apr 18, 2015 |
I read the first Rabbit book and then this one, the last in that series, thirty years later. My younger self liked Rabbit, Run a lot--five stars worth. But then I was put off, over then years, by essays written by Updike in NYRB and some general things I read about him, including the opinions of others--including moves based upon his books, like The Witches of Eastwick--which influenced me, which is to say I foolishly formed some secondhand preconceptions.

At any rate, recently I've been reading authors whom I've had these nebulous, prejudicial attitudes about--often contemporary or almost contemporary writers, like Philip Roth and Saul Bellow (I discovered I don't care for Bellow, whom I find turgid, and can only take a few of Roth's books, because of his sexual o0bsessions). And then I came to this one Rabbit at Rest, which I thought superlative. ( )
  copyedit52 | Mar 18, 2015 |
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 |
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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.
First words
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:50 -0400)

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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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