I recently read a couple of John Updike’s Rabbit novels. While I appreciate Updike’s wordsmithery, the overall effect after reading them is somewhat underwhelming. First off, Rabbit Angstrom is a rather unredeemable and uninteresting protagonist - too self-absorbed and manipulative to connect with emotionally, too shallow and unreflective to be one of those characters you’d hate in real life but appreciate for their insight on a fictional stage. I’m not asking for a white hat to root for, but you’ve got to give me somebody who’s got some qualities in their favor, else I’ll be wishing for mass carnage and destruction halfway through just to ward off the tedium.
Another problem I have with these novels is the lack of characterization given to the female characters. Women in the Rabbit novels are presented as shallow cardboard figures, obstacles in Rabbit’s way as he pursues what he wants. (For that matter, most of the other male characters are portrayed in a similar manner, but even the reverend that tries to set Rabbit straight is better characterized than Rabbit’s wife or girlfriend.) At least give the reader a greater idea about the effects that Rabbit’s manipulations have on other people, if nothing else.
When it comes to pre-JFK assassination American middle class angst, I prefer Raymond Carver over Updike. Carver had a knack for poignant characterization and the ability to capture the isolating aspects of modern life that’s more resonant for me than Updike’s somewhat detached perspective.