Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Fiction Review: Rabbit, Run

I had never read anything by John Updike and wanted to, so for Christmas my husband gave me Rabbit, Run, the first novel in Updike's famed Rabbit series. I finally read this modern classic last month. It was interesting and engaging, though I did have some mixed feelings about it. I'd love to hear from other readers if I should read more of the series!

Twenty-six-year-old Harry Angstrom is known as Rabbit and was a high school basketball star. Life's been pretty much downhill since then. After a stint in the Army stationed in Texas, Rabbit is now back in his hometown in eastern Pennsylvania. He's working as a salesman for a kitchen peeler, is married to Janice, and has a toddler son and another baby on the way. One day, Rabbit gets fed up with his life and with Janice, and when he goes out to pick up their son from his grandparents' house, he just keeps driving. As he drives out of town and then through several states well into the dark night, the sense of freedom makes Rabbit ecstatic. He does return back to the area but not to his home. Instead, he lives in the next town over and without a backward glance, starts a new life. He checks in with his old basketball coach, looking for guidance. And, though he doesn't ask for it, support comes from another source, too: the young Father Eccles (or just Jack), the Episcopalian minister of his in-law's church. They are understandably worried about Harry, so Jack goes looking for him and tries to counsel him. The two men begin to play golf together and talk, and it becomes obvious that Jack has some issues of his own, though he never stops trying to convince Harry to return home.

This is a twisty, compelling story that kept me guessing (mostly because I kept expecting Rabbit to do the right thing!), and it has a strong sense of place. Updike's writing is mostly excellent, and I can see why he's achieved so much critical acclaim in his career. Sometimes, a sentence or phrase would just jump off the page at me, like his description of Rabbit finally sleeping soundly after many nights of insomnia:

"Sleep this night is not a dark haunted domain the mind must consciously set itself to invade, but a cave inside himself, into which he shrinks while the claws of the bear rattle like rain outside."

Many of his passages are also thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I always enjoy that in a novel. At other times, I got irritated by long sentences inside long paragraphs that went on for pages. Rabbit is not a likable character, but I don't think he's supposed to be. He's selfish, immature, and completely self-centered. In fact, there weren't a lot of characters to feel empathy for or root for in this novel, other than the children. I certainly felt sorry for Janice, but she is not painted in an especially positive light. The novel was originally published in 1960, which was both good and bad for me. I did enjoy many of the pop culture references of the time, especially during Rabbit's late night drive listening to the radio, and descriptions of daily life. However, parts of the novel felt very misogynistic to me, and women were highly sexualized (except for Rabbit's mother and mother-in-law). I couldn't tell whether that was intentional and supposed to be Rabbit's perspective, or the inadvertent biases of the author, or simply a product of its time. So, certain aspects of the novel were problematic for me, but I did enjoy reading it, had no trouble finishing it, and admired some of the writing.

So, my question is ... should I continue the series and read more Rabbit books? Those who have read them, let me know if Rabbit grows and redeems himself in later books!

325 pages, Random House

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. The sample is from the beginning of the novel and provides a good look at Rabbit's life and into his head, as he impulsively joins some kids in a pick-up basketball game.


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local:



Or you can order Rabbit, Run from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I am going to be no help in your quest for answers since I haven't read any of his books. Hope others are able to chime in.

    1. Thanks, Helen! This was my first. Someone told me Rabbit Redux (#2) is even worse!

  2. I haven't read any books by Updike and now after your review, I'm wondering it isn't a book I want to read. I have trouble with books which sexualize women. Some books just don't age well.

    1. I agree, Anne, though maybe some of his other works aren't that way. #3 and #4 in the Rabbit series won the Pulitzer Prize, but I don't know if I will get that far!