Saturday, April 02, 2011

John Updike's "Rabbit at Rest"

Rabbit eats and eats to fill the growing emptiness of his life as he ages. The taste of things, the last flickering appetite for life, is vividly described in this final installment of John Updike's Rabbit tetralogy, as well as the invasion of medical technology into one's decaying body. Rabbit has an angioplasty, and the scene is humorous, terrifying and unforgettable.

Unlike Ian McEwan, who casts a coolly satirical eye on modern-day consumerism in his novel, Solar, Updike sizes up not just the meanness of greed, but also its meaning. For nothing that a human being is capable of doing is without redeeming value. Updike is not Rabbit, but at times Rabbit speaks for him. Like Rabbit, Updike "never had much use for old-fashioned ethics but their dissolution eats at him." This novel is an elegy, yes, but it addresses a dying morality as much as a decaying body.

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