Author: John Updike
Title: Rabbit is Rich
Publication Date: 1981
Page Length: 512 pages (approx.)
Rabbit is Rich, written by John Updike and published in 1981, is a thought-provoking novel that delves into the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a former high school basketball star turned Toyota car salesman. Set in the late 1970s in Brewer, Pennsylvania, the story explores Rabbit's personal growth, family dynamics, and the societal changes that marked the era.
Section 1: The Fall of the House of Springer
The narrative begins with Harry Angstrom, now in his early 40s, looking back on his life, particularly his marriage to Janice and the early years of their son Nelson. Rabbit reflects on his relationship with his wealthy father-in-law, Fred Springer, as the Springer family business faces potential bankruptcy due to mismanagement. Intertwined within these reflections are Rabbit's contemplations on his own insecurities and desires for material success.
Section 2: A Fine Romance
Rabbit's marriage, though stable, lacks the passion it once had. He feels attracted to Jill, his receptionist at the dealership, who reciprocates these complicated feelings. As temptation builds, Rabbit ultimately resists the affair, recognizing the potential damage it could cause to both his marriage and his own conscience. Meanwhile, Rabbit's wife, Janice, becomes engrossed in a personal development seminar, further straining their relationship.
Section 3: The First Christmas
Rabbit's son, Nelson, gets married to a pregnant Brenda, causing mixed feelings for Rabbit. He experiences bouts of nostalgia for his own youth while grappling with the reality of his own aging. Rabbit also forms a bond with his daughter-in-law, finding solace in their shared love for sports and genuine connection. Throughout the section, Rabbit becomes increasingly aware of the shifting dynamics within his family.
Section 4: The Drop-Out
Recreational drug use emerges as a theme when Rabbit's wife, Janice, reveals her secret cocaine habit. Struggling to hide his disgust, Rabbit confronts his wife and attempts to guide her towards recovery. In parallel, Rabbit's childhood friend, Ronnie Harrison, re-enters his life after years of battling drug addiction. As Ronnie's life spirals out of control, Rabbit feels compelled to help him, leading to a series of tense encounters.
Section 5: Rolling on the Floor Laughing
The repercussions of Rabbit's father-in-law's shady business dealings finally surface. Legal complications arise, putting the Springer family's wealth and reputation at stake. Rabbit finds himself drawn into the turmoil, grappling with his role as a moral compass amidst a web of financial impropriety. This section further explores themes of greed, societal expectations, and the pursuit of happiness.
Section 6: Open and Shut
In the final section, Rabbit faces an emotional rollercoaster as he becomes a grandfather and confronts the tragic loss of a loved one. The novel offers a glimpse into Rabbit's internal conflicts and captures the heightened vulnerability that accompanies life-altering events. Rabbit, despite all his flaws and mistakes, attempts to find peace and meaning in his life, a journey that resonates with readers navigating their own complexities.
Rabbit is Rich provides a layered exploration of various themes including the complexities of human relationships, the tension between personal desires and societal expectations, the challenges of aging and mortality, and the pursuit of material wealth. Through Rabbit's introspection and personal experiences, the novel offers an insightful commentary on the human condition and the universal quest for meaning and happiness.
John Updike's Rabbit is Rich is a significant work in American literature, as it not only continues the captivating character development of Harry Angstrom throughout the Rabbit series but also delves into the sociopolitical climate of 1970s America. By presenting a relatably imperfect protagonist and portraying the challenges faced by both Rabbit and the society he embodies, Updike offers readers an empathetic portrayal of complex human experiences. This novel remains relevant as it reflects timeless themes and resonates with readers seeking to understand the intricate tapestry of human existence.