Putting the angst in Angstrom


RIP John Updike

Rabbit, Run was the first adult book that I ever read.

By ‘adult book’ I mean something that wasn’t one of the classics that were approved reading for high schoolers at the time. I was sixteen and knee deep in my somewhat Leave It To Beaver teen years ( I had the most normal and uneventful family life that was conceivable in the late sixties/early seventies. Happy in that dull suburban oblivious way) and, after reading the inside flap of the RR dust jacket,  the idea of a former high school basketball star who never matured beyond that rapidly receding point in his life seemed so compelling and exotic.

The discontented, fumbling, horny, all too human Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom was my Holden Caulfield (Not a fan of Catcher. So sue me.) and Rabbit, Run along with Rabbit Redux  which came out that year, provided me with a real life template for future anxiety  that I was, well, anxious to avoid. These books spoke to my life and the times  with Rabbit as a stand-in reflecting the upheaval and simmering chaos of the world outside of my quiet neighborhood. What he lived though, I would try to avoid.  What he refused to understand, I would give my best shot. To say that the Rabbit books were a pivotal point in my life would be an understatement. 

More importantly, reading John Updike opened the door to the worlds of John Cheever, Walker Percy, William Styron, Wallace Stegner and other post-war writers who were not taught in your average high school English class in the early seventies.

Like many others, I’m not a fan of much of Updike’s later work, although Hugging the Shore is one of my favorite books of essays and criticism (along with Pauline Kael’s Going Steady and John McPhee’s Giving Good Weight), and it has been years since I’ve attempted anything new by him. When my wife, whom I introduced to the Rabbit books when we started dating, called me today to tell me that he passed away,  I felt bad; as if I had neglected or taken for granted someone who had done so much for me so long ago. And so I just wanted to take a break from my usual whatever the hell it is I do here to say to Mr. Updike that I’m so glad that I met you and I’m so sorry that you are gone.

For a more fitting tribute, go here.

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