Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Goodbye Rabbit

Pulitzer Prize winning author John Updike died Tuesday and chances are you've heard the sound bites already. He is the guy who wrote the “Rabbit” books. You know, “Run, Rabbit” and “Rabbit is Rich.” He is considered by many to be one of the great literary figures in American history. Here's the thing, though, the sound bites won't tell you: John Updike is a man who speaks truth. He's incredibly funny and not in that stand-up comedian kind of way. He's got this wry, ironic spin to everything he says but he never sounds supercilious or pretentious – it’s the sincerity in his humor that brings it home. His observations amuse and sting at the same time - you can't help but see yourself in his masterfully crafted observations; you laugh and think, ‘This man really gets it.’

He’s a guy who thinks deeply about things but doesn't talk over your head.

And he was human, infallibly human. John Updike, who like most of us had professional jealousies, envied Jack Kerouac so much he refused to read “On the Road” for years after it was published. Instead, Updike wrote a sort of antithesis of it with his novel “Run, Rabbit.” Updike thought that not everyone can be on the road all the time. Someone has got to be back at home doing things or nothing would get done, he said. That's what came out of his small-town Pennsylvania upbringing - an appreciation for home and not for running.

This theme is reflected in the character known as Rabbit. Rabbit was a family man, a very unhappy family man. And Rabbit ran; he hit the road like so many people in the 1960’s feeling constrained by middle class conformity adopted in the 1950’s, but inexorably Rabbit found himself going back home again. When asked about this, John Updike said, "I think a lot of us yearn for more freedom, the ultimate freedom of walking away, but then when we do it, we realize we don't know what to do now that we're free." Besides, he said bringing the theme back to Kerouac’s beatnik pretension, even though Kerouac hung around with Allen Ginsberg and that crowd, he used to run home to Mama Kerouac's cooking for months at a time, "So, so much for him." See, even Kerouac didn't want to be on the road all the time.



So, at a time when the middle class was bursting out onto the road and rebelling against the constraints of domestication, John Updike chose to write about just that; families and their real lives lived behind closed doors, the place where the rubber hits the road for all of us; the hard place, the place where there is no place left to hide, where we are who we really are, and we aren't running anymore.



Even if you never read a word he said, do yourself a favor - log onto http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99945565 and download the NPR broadcast of interview excerpts with John Updike compiled by Terry Gross on Fresh Air from WHYY. His words will inspire you and move something deep within you that needs moving, I guarantee it.

7 comments:

VeeFlower said...

I read the Rabbit series and other works by John Updike, appreciating and enjoying, even marveling, but never knew these details about his life and thoughts. This tribute almost brought tears to my eyes. For two reasons: one, the dude is gone. (Read "Rabbit at Rest" for some pithy perspectives on a man who is dying, Updike style) and two, because my daughter writes so wonderfully well, and has such deep thoughts, even though where her rubber meets the road is some hard concrete indeed.

bunnyjo georg said...

He had some interesting things to say in the interview excerpts about aging - he said, "Today I woke up an age I've never been before. I feel as though I am blazing a trail and sending back smoke signals for those that come behind..." He really is an amazing person with an incredibly insightful mind. As always, it is too bad we learn to appreciate someone more in their death than we did in their life. I think there's a resolution in there somewhere...

Thank you for your kind words about my writing. I just wish I had more time to do it....I keep telling myself, "Once we get the house done..." but there is always something that seems more important than the things we yearn to do. I guess that is why people who actually follow their dreams are so rare. Wow, I feel philosophical today.

After The Blackbird Sings said...

I confess, I've never read Updike

Big Plain V said...

Nice post, seester. I'm so glad that smell is gone.

Big Plain V said...

And you'll notice: some people make time to follow their dreams, because they actually intend to make them come true. You could so be one of those people.

VeeFlower said...

I'm re-reading Rabbit at Rest because we happened to have a copy around the house. I am gleaning so much more out of the second reading. It's a little depressing for someone who has had heart surgery, but only a little. It's still a cracking great read!

And I, too, hope you have a chance to follow your dreams. I think some of them have already come true, and others are in the works, while there are others on the back burner, but just for now.

bunnyjo georg said...

It is a very interesting subject, this subject of dreams. I happen to think that there are seasons in life where the time is ripe to pursue a dream of one sort and put the others on hold. I guess that is how I view my life right now. It is most people's dream to be able to remodel their home and to be able to do what they want with it, and that is a dream that I am lucky enough to be able to pursue right now. But to be able to truly give yourself over to pursuing a dream means focusing on it with intense purpose - and making decisions not to pursue other things so as to meet your goal of pursuing that dream. So, for now we are remodeling a house. After that, though, it is open season on the writing gig!