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Rabbit’s last songs

I finished reading Rabbit at Rest by John Updike and the only word for it is
Wow! Here is a great writer who knows how to bring scenes and characters to
life. He is not flashy or literary, just a supremely gifted writer who can
describe a person or a scene with the telling detail, get into a character’s
mind and write pitch-perfect dialogue.

Here he is describing his hero, Harry
“Rabbit” Angstrom’s thoughts and impressions as he listens to music on the radio
while driving from his old home in Brewer, Pennsylvania, to the condo in Florida
where he and his wife, Janice, have retired. But Janice is not with him: he is
driving alone on what will be his last journey. He is 55, listening to oldies,
and see how the music reminds him of old times. It is the summer of 1990. Updike
is using music to flash back to Rabbit’s younger days. Anyone who has
listened to these songs will feel a rush of nostalgia. Just read the passage:

In Florida, there is no trouble finding Golden Oldies stations on the car
radio. We’re all oldies down here. The music of your life, some of the
announcers like to call it, and it keeps tumbling in, Patti Page begging, “Never
let me goooo, I love you soooo,” and then doing so perkily that Latin American
bit with “Aye yi yi” and the caballeros, and finishing “I’ve waited all my life,
to give you all my love, my heart belongs to you,” and then Tony Bennett or one
of those other mooing Italians with “Be My Love”, speaking of all my love, and
then Gogi Grant and “The Wayward Wind”, he hasn’t thought of Gogi Grant for
ages, it’s a rare song that doesn’t light up some of his memory cells, while the
landscape outside the car windows beyond the whoosh of the air-conditioner gets
more and more honkeytonk — Flea World, Active Adult Living and car after car
goes by with an orange Garfield stuck to the back window with paws that are
suction caps. “Why you ramble, no one knows,” Nat “King” Cole singing “Rambling
Rose”, ending so gently, “Why I want you, no one knows,” you can just see that
wise slow smile, and then “Tzena, Tzena”, he hasn’t heard that for years either,
the music doesn’t come ethnic any more, and “Oh My Papa”, speaking of ethnic,
and Kay Starr really getting her back into “Wheel of Fortune,” all those
hiccups, hard-driving, “Puleazze let it be now,” and “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”, that
really goes back, he was walking to grade school with Lottie Bingham, in love
with Margaret Schoelkopf, and Presley’s “Love Me Tender”, knock him all you
want, before he got fat and druggy and spooked in the end he had a real voice, a
beautiful voice not like foghorn Sinatra, and then Ray Charles, now there’s
another real voice, “I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You”, “dreaming of yesterdaysss”, the
way it tails off like that, that funny blind man’s waggle of the head, and
Connie Francis, “Where The Boys Are”, a voice to freeze your scalp all right,
but whose life are these songs? That was beach-party era, he was all married and
separated and reconciled and working at Verity Press by then, no more parties
for him.

Wow, that’s beautiful.

Categories: Books

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Abhijit

Abhijit loves reading and writing.

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