My husband brought this home from the library because it is one of those books that we are supposed to have read. He started it and then put it down with the complaint that it was too descriptive. I picked it up and after the first 20 pages was entranced. I agree that Updike spends too much on description at times: the first description of the mountain and his drive south on the night he leaves Janice are very wordy and unnecessary, but the meat of the story was concise and powerful.
Rabbit struggles with the same domestic trap that I find myself analyzing quite a bit in daily life: "How again did I get here and how do I get away from all of these dependents?" While many readers dislike Rabbit for his cowardice in running, I can applaud him a bit for having the courage to make an attempt to start fresh. Unfortunately, he doesn't really do anything. He just creates a new trap for himself (what is that about, not allowing Ruth to use birth control?) and settles into a new domestic scene. He is described as fastidious (but he sleeps with hooers...gotta love the phonetic misspelling of that) and clean and neat, but certainly he does nothing other than make messes wherever he goes. Rather than dislike Rabbit, I just saw him as a nincompoop. He had potential the moment he left town, but ultimately it just fizzled.
I really liked that Rabbit, Ruth, and Janice all underwent a passage of selfish and selflessness in which they were convinced (during a sexual interaction) that no one really knew who they were or how they felt. Updike has a great way of presenting the same idea three times, but with different phrases and points of view: each of them during the sexual act rejoices that their partner is seeing them as a unique and special creature and then melts into understanding that their partner does not see them as anything other than a warm body (and indistinguishable from any other partner) and then becomes completely selfish in their desire to just be understood.
There were several inconsistencies in the plot: Tothero at first encourages Rabbit to go back to Janice, but then takes him out for a night with the hooers, and then later preaches to him that "Right and wrong aren't dropped from the sky. We. We make them. Against misery." and suggest that he wanted Harry to go back to Janice the whole time; Harry does not know that his father-in-law has several used car lots; Harry has never been upstairs in the Springer house or seen Janice's childhood bedroom; Nelson is scared of Harry's mom, but she feeds him lovingly in the first scene in which we meet them just before Harry leaves. Overall there were just a few too many pieces that did not quite fit together with common sense or standard assumptions that one would expect could be made about people living in a smallish town (clearly with lots of gossip) their whole lives.
Despite the incompetence of the main character, I loved Updike's commentary throughout and have several quotes below.
"Know Thyself. Learn to understand your talents, and then work to develop them. That's the way to be happy." I love this...I do believe that personal happiness is closely tied to a sense of satisfaction and self efficacy, both of which come from a job well done. Updike likes this so much that he brings it up at least three times in the book. Unfortunately it doesn't really help Rabbit..he was good at basketball, but that is over and he does not appear to be good at anything else.
"all of a sudden with Harry there it was and it made everything that had gone before seem pretty unreal. After all nobody had ever really hurt her, left her scarred or anything, and when she tries to remember it it sometimes seems it happened to somebody else. They seemed sort of vague, as if she had kept her eyes shut, vague and pathetic and eager, wanting some business their wives wouldn't give, a few dirty words or a whimper or that business with the mouth." Recently I was in a discussion about stripper's and prostitute's (portrayed anyway) attitude of "johns" as schmucks. Despite the very politically correct view that sex workers are exploited, actual women in the industry do present an image of themselves as superior to the poor seeking schmuck. Women are not necessarily ashamed (despite the puritan-American-cultural expectation that they should be) of this role/job; instead they embrace their own superiority. Ruth transcends even this, she presents them as "vague" and not even worth remembering.
"Men are all heart and women are all body. I don't know who's supposed to have the brains. God, I suppose." At least this was said by one of the two atheists in the novel. I was disappointed that Lucy (who despite being the preacher's wife is clearly a Jezebel in her tempting of Rabbit) and Ruth (the hooer) are the only ones who question the existence of God.
"The fullness ends when we give Nature her ransom, when we make children for her. Then she is through with us, and we become, first inside, and then outside, junk. Flower stalks." I love the image of us as empty husks once we have fulfilled our biological responsibility of producing children. Certainly the act of birthing and taking care of kids can be so draining.
"What held him back all day was the feeling that somewhere there was something better for him than listening to babies cry and cheating people in used-car lots and it's this feeling he tries to kill, right there on the bus." Going back to the main theme of "how did I get here and is this all I can expect from life?" Updike seems to be saying that the only way Rabbit can get through his life is if he is able to reject his feelings that there could ever be anything else. I would argue that instead, he needs to find something to incorporate into his life. The whole reason this is Rabbit, RUN is because he has not found a satisfactory substitute or additive; instead he is just leaving one bad situation for another for another for another......
Overall it is compelling and entertaining, insightful and thought provoking.