PPRL: Rabbit Is Rich, by John Updike (winner, 1981)

The good thing about Rabbit Is Rich is that it excited the writerly part of my brain in a way it's never been excited before. There's a forty page section in the middle of the book that I feel confident in declaring the best forty pages of fiction I have ever read. That's not hyperbole. Writing so taut, so seamless that it's like a wall where every brick was meticulously chosen and sealed with the exact right amount of mortar. A talent clearly at the very top of his game. Laugh at me: I actually cried when I was telling Terence about a few of my favorite passages. Granted I was a bit hormonal that day, but for real, the sheer craftmanship of this book moved me like nothing I've ever experienced in literature. I want to find a list of Updike's favorite authors (poets in particular) because I need to know how he learned to think like he did.

The bad thing about Rabbit Is Rich is that I'm scared I never will. Think like he did, I mean. It's given me a wretched case of What's the fucking point?? writer's block. I'm throttled by my own sense of inspiration and wonder. For fuck's sake, there is anal sex in this book. And it still won the Pulitzer Prize. That's how magnificent the writing is. 

Ugh, anyway, we soldier on in our mediocrity, amiright? (Speak for yourself, Ellie, wtf?) I would barely know where to start with this novel had I an actual classroom to torture with my fangirling, but I think the most interesting discussions fall under one of three main headings (though with plenty of overlap): Harry + Money, Harry + Women, and Harry + Harry.

Harry + Money

Forget country club memberships, gold and silver coins, and trips to the Caribbean; Harry's wealth affords him non-tangibles that are more integral to his sense of self than anything he can buy. Arrogance, hubris, cynicism, (male, white) privilege... How is Harry's perception of his personal power accurate, and how it is flawed?

Discuss Harry's enthusiasm for Consumer Reports. Does Harry feel empowered by it? Unnerved? How do his fears about the economy, about material wealth and financial solvency factor in?

Harry + Women

Harry is spectacularly sexist, jawdroppingly patronizing, disturbingly predatory, and intolerably condescending towards women. And yet it's impossible to hate him. How does Updike accomplish this?

Explore the subtext and metaphor of the (simultaneously triumphant and pathetic) Kruggerand sex scene between Harry and Janice. In what ways is his wife an extension of Harry's wealth?

The other women in the novel (Ruth, Cindy, Thelma, Melanie, Pru, etc) also manifest as a kind of currency in Harry's life. In what ways do they compliment or challenge his ego?

Harry + Harry

Harry is preoccupied with death, and the dead as a whole in particular. Some quotes:

He is treading on [the dead], they are resilient, they are cheering him on, his lungs are burning, his heart hurts, he is a membrane removed from the hosts below, their filaments caress his ankles, he loves the earth, he will never make their mistake and die.

Now the dead are so many he feels for the living around him the camaraderie of survivors.

Why does he feel compelled to "keep track" of the dead, of who's joining their ranks and why? How do the dead serve him? How do they threaten him?

Compare Harry's treatment of his progeny - the rejection of his son vs. the obsession with his possible daughter. How does the legacy of family relate to Harry's beliefs about himself?