Updike and Lawrence Durrell

I love the harmonies of the Beach Boys, the rush of air on the seashore, the heave and swell of waves, the sun going down on a blushing horizon, the full moon in sail on a starry night. And I love writers who can show me all this in sensuous, gorgeous prose.

I love Updike and Lawrence Durrell who were interested in the two things that really matter: love and language.

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Rabbit, rest in peace

Rabbit_at_rest
Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

John Updike is a perfectionist — not a flamboyant writer. He can make even
the shocking seem almost natural.

In Rabbit At Rest, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom ends up in bed with his
daughter-in-law, Pru. Imagine how the scene would have played in a Greek
tragedy. But here it becomes just a family embarrassment which sends Rabbit
fleeing to his second home in Florida. He can’t face his wife, Janice, and his
son, Nelson, after Pru in a fit of conscience reveals their one-night stand. But
Rabbit expects everything will be sorted out in the end and Janice will join him
in Florida. And when he speaks to Pru on the phone, it is clear she still likes
him. He even gets her to say she does not think of him as an old man at all.
Yes, it’s that kind of a novel.

Put like that, it might seem amoral. And Rabbit doesn’t help matters when
Janice, learning of the incident, confronts him on the phone from  her son’s
home.  “What’s this ‘perverted’?” he retorts. “We aren’t blood-related. It was
just a normal one-night stand. She was hard up and I was at death’s door. It was
her way of playing nurse.”

And those callous words, spoken just before Rabbit flees his old hometown,
Brewer, Pennsylvania, forever, outline the plot of this novel — a meditation on
old age, death and dysfunctional families.

It won the Pulitzer prize like the preceding Rabbit Is Rich, about Rabbit in
his prime. It is rich in characters and social commentary. Updike writes
about Rabbit with such marvellous affinity that he becomes like Everyman — an
ageing Everyman. It’s the Great American Novel set in the Reagan era. Rabbit even gets to take part in a Fourth of July parade as Uncle Sam, cheered on by the people in his old hometown who remember he was a high-school basketball star.

Those glory days are long gone, however.

It happened one night

Rabbit is 55, retired, suffering from heart problems. He wants to be in
charge again of Springer Motors, the Toyota dealership inherited from his
father-in-law, but Janice won’t let him. She wants Nelson to run the business.
But he suspects the boy is taking drugs and stealing money from the business.
His suspicions prove correct. Nelson is packed off to a rehabilitation centre.
That is when the sex scene occurs.  Pru comes into his arms when he tries to
comfort her after she talks of the abuse she has suffered from her husband. He
has always been attracted to her, and it just happens:

Rain whips at the screen… A brilliant close flash shocks the air everywhere
and less than a second later a heart-stopping crack and splintering of thunder
crushes the house from above. As if in overflow of this natural heedlessness,
Pru says “Shit”, jumps from the bed, slams shut the window, pulls down the
shade, tears open her bathrobe and sheds it, and, reaching down, pulls her
nightie up over her head. Her tall pale wide-hipped nakedness in the dimmed room
is lovely much as those pear trees in blossom along that block in Brewer were
lovely, all his it had seemed, a piece of Paradise blundered upon,
incredible.

Continue reading “Rabbit, rest in peace”

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, ge 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.

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Rabbit’s last songs: Love Me Tender

These songs are for John Updike fans. It’s one of the last songs Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom hears on the radio driving from his old home in Brewer, Pennsylvania, to the condo in Florida, where he and Janice have retired — only Janice is not with him, not on this drive almost at the very end of Rabbit at Rest, the fourth Rabbit book, set in the twilight of his life. Elvis Presley sings Love Me Tender.

Updike writes:

“knock him all you want, before he got fat and druggy and spooky in the end he had a real voice, a beautiful voice, not like foghorn Sinatra…”

Well, Sinatra was good — memorably so in Something Stupid and Strangers in the Night — but Elvis was and is the King, right up there with the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

Rabbit’s last songs: I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You

These songs are for John Updike fans. It’s one of the last songs Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom hears on the radio driving from his old home in Brewer, Pennsylvania, to the condo in Florida, where he and Janice have retired — only Janice is not with him, not on this drive almost at the very end of Rabbit at Rest, the fourth Rabbit book, set in the twilight of his life. Ray Charles sings I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You. Wow! A voice that cuts to your soul.

Rabbit’s last songs: Ramblin’ Rose

These songs are for John Updike fans. It’s one of the last songs Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom hears on the radio driving from his old home in Brewer, Pennsylvania, to the condo in Florida, where he and Janice have retired — only Janice is not with him, not on this drive almost at the very end of Rabbit at Rest, the fourth Rabbit book, set in the twilight of his life. Nat King Cole sings Ramblin’ Rose. I love everything by Nat King Cole. This is so romantic.

Rabbit’s last songs: Wheel of Fortune

These songs are for John Updike fans. It’s one of the last songs Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom hears on the radio driving from his old home in Brewer, Pennsylvania, to the condo in Florida, where he and Janice have retired — only Janice is not with him, not on this drive almost at the very end of Rabbit at Rest, the fourth Rabbit book, set in the twilight of his life. Kay Starr sings Wheel of Fortune. I am hearing it for the first time.

Rabbit’s last songs: Wheel of Fortune

These songs are for John Updike fans. It’s one of the last songs Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom hears on the radio driving from his old home in Brewer, Pennsylvania, to the condo in Florida, where he and Janice have retired — only Janice is not with him, not on this drive almost at the very end of Rabbit at Rest, the fourth Rabbit book, set in the twilight of his life. Kay Starr sings Wheel of Fortune. I am hearing it for the first time.

Rabbit’s last songs: Where the Boys Are

These songs are for John Updike fans. It’s one of the last songs Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom hears on the radio driving from his old home in Brewer, Pennsylvania, to the condo in Florida, where he and Janice have retired — only Janice is not with him, not on this drive almost at the very end of Rabbit at Rest, the fourth Rabbit book, set in the twilight of his life. Connie Francis singing Where the Boys Are. Rabbit gets goosebumps hearing this song. It has that something. I saw the trailer, not the film.