Rabbit at Rest

Rabbit at Rest

by John Updike


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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Howells Medal, and the National Book Critics Circle Award
In John Updike’s fourth and final novel about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, the hero has acquired a Florida condo, a second grandchild, and a troubled, overworked heart. His son, Nelson, is behaving erratically; his daughter-in-law, Pru, is sending him mixed signals; and his wife, Janice, decides in midlife to return to the world of work. As, through the year of 1989, Reagan’s debt-ridden, AIDS-plagued America yields to that of the first George Bush, Rabbit explores the bleak terrain of late middle age, looking for reasons to live and opportunities to make peace with a remorselessly accumulating past.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780449911945
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/28/1996
Series: Rabbit Quartet , #4
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 496,510
Product dimensions: 5.46(w) x 8.23(h) x 1.23(d)
Lexile: 1050L (what's this?)

About the Author

John Updike was born in Shillington, Pennsylvania, in 1932. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954 and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and the William Dean Howells Medal. In 2007 he received the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. John Updike died in January 2009.

Date of Birth:

March 18, 1932

Date of Death:

January 27, 2009

Place of Birth:

Shillington, Pennsylvania

Place of Death:

Beverly Farms, MA


A.B. in English, Harvard University, 1954; also studied at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford, England

Read an Excerpt

Standing amid the tan, excited post-Christmas crowd at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport, Rabbit Angstrom has a funny sudden feeling that what he has come to meet, what’s floating in unseen about to land, is not his son Nelson and daughter-in-law Pru and their two children but something more ominous and intimately his: his own death, shaped vaguely like an airplane. The sensation chills him, above and beyond the terminal air-conditioning. But, then, facing Nelson has made him feel uneasy for thirty years.
The airport is relatively new. You drive to it off Exit 21 of Interstate 75 down three miles of divided highway that for all the skinny palms in rows and groomed too-green flat-bladed grass at its sides seems to lead nowhere. There are no billboards or self-advertising roadside enterprises or those low houses with cooling white-tile roofs that are built by the acre down here. You think you’ve made a mistake. An anxious red Camaro convertible is pushing in the rearview mirror.
“Harry, there’s no need to speed. We’re early if anything.”
Janice, Rabbit’s wife, said this to him on the way in. What rankled was the tolerant, careful tone she has lately adopted, as if he’s prematurely senile. He looked over and watched her tuck back a stubborn fluttering wisp of half-gray hair from her sun-toughened little brown nut of a face. “Honey, I’m being tailgated,” he explained, and eased back into the right lane and let the speedometer needle quiver back below sixty-five. The Camaro convertible passed in a rush, a cocoa-brown black chick in a gray felt stewardess’s cap at the wheel, her chin and lips pushing forward, not giving him so much as a sideways glance. This rankled, too. From the back, the way they’ve designed the trunk and bumper, a Camaro seems to have a mouth, two fat metal lips parted as if to hiss. So maybe Harry’s being spooked began then.
The terminal when it shows up at last is a long low white building like a bigger version of the sunstruck clinics—dental, chiropractic, arthritic, cardiac, legal, legal-medical—that line the boulevards of this state dedicated to the old. You park at a lot only a few steps away from the door of sliding brown glass: the whole state babies you. Inside, upstairs, where the planes are met, the spaces are long and low and lined in tasteful felt gray like that cocky stewardess’s cap and filled with the kind of music you become aware of only when the elevator stops or when the dentist stops drilling. Plucked strings, no vocals, music that’s used to being ignored, a kind of carpet in the air, to cover up a silence that might remind you of death. These long low tasteful spaces, as little cluttered by advertisements as the highway, remind Rabbit of something. Air-conditioning ducts, he thinks at first, and then crypts. These are futuristic spaces like those square tunnels in movies that a trick of the camera accelerates into spacewarp to show we’re going from one star to the next. 2001, will he be alive? He touches Janice at his side, the sweated white cotton of her tennis dress at the waist, to relieve his sudden sense of doom. Her waist is thicker, has less of a dip, as she grows into that barrel body of women in late middle age, their legs getting skinny, their arms getting loose like cooked chicken coming off the bone. She wears over the sweaty tennis dress an open-weave yellow cardigan hung unbuttoned over her shoulders against the chill of airport air-conditioning. He is innocently proud that she looks, in her dress and tan, even to the rings of pallor that sunglasses have left around her eyes, like these other American grandmothers who can afford to be here in this land of constant sunshine and eternal youth.
“Gate A5,” Janice says, as if his touch had been a technical question. “From Cleveland by way of Newark,” she says, with that businesswoman efficiency she has taken on in middle age, especially since her mother died seven years ago, leaving her the lot, Springer Motors and its assets, one of only two Toyota agencies in the Brewer, Pennsylvania, area: the family all still speak of it as “the lot,” since it began as a used-car lot owned and run by Fred Springer, dead Fred Springer, who is reincarnated, his widow Bessie and daughter Janice have the fantasy, in Nelson, both being wiry shrimps with something shifty about them. Which is why Harry and Janice spend half the year in Florida—so Nelson can have free run of the lot. Harry, Chief Sales Representative for over ten years, with him and Charlie Stavros managing it all between them, wasn’t even mentioned in Ma Springer’s will, for all the years he lived with her in her gloomy big house on Joseph Street and listened to her guff about what a saint Fred was and her complaining about her swollen ankles. Everything went to Janice, as if he was an unmentionable incident in the Springer dynasty. The house on Joseph Street, that Nelson and his family get to live in just for covering the upkeep and taxes, must be worth three hundred thousand now that the yuppies are moving across the mountain from northeast Brewer into the town of Mt. Judge, not to mention the cottage in the Poconos where even the shacks in the woods have skyrocketed, and the lot land alone, four acres along Route 111 west of the river, might bring close to a million from one of the hi-tech companies that have come into the Brewer area this last decade, to take advantage of the empty factories, the skilled but depressed laboring force, and the old-fashionedly cheap living. Janice is rich. Rabbit would like to share with her the sudden chill he had felt, the shadow of some celestial airplane, but a shell she has grown repels him. The dress at her waist when he touched it felt thick and unresponsive, a damp hide. He is alone with his premonition.
A crowd of welcomers has collected this Tuesday after Christmas in this last year of Ronald Reagan’s reign. A little man with that hunched back and awkward swiftness Jews often seem to have dodges around them and shouts behind him to his wife, as if the Angstroms weren’t there, “Come on, Grace!”
Grace, Harry thinks. A strange name for a Jewish woman. Or maybe not. Biblical names, Rachel, Esther, but not always: Barbra, Bette. He is still getting used to the Jews down here, learning from them, trying to assimilate the philosophy that gives them such a grip on the world. That humpbacked old guy in his pink checked shirt and lipstick-red slacks racing as if the plane coming in was the last train out of Warsaw. When Harry and Janice were planning the move down here their advisers on Florida, mostly Charlie Stavros and Webb Murkett, told them the Gulf side was the Christian coast as opposed to the Jewish Atlantic side but Harry hasn’t noticed that really; as far as his acquaintanceship goes all Florida is as Jewish as New York and Hollywood and Tel Aviv. In their condo building in fact he and Janice are pets of a sort, being gentiles: they’re considered cute. Watching that little guy, seventy if he’s a day, breaking into a run, hopping zigzag through the padded pedestal chairs so he won’t be beaten out at the arrival gate, Harry remorsefully feels the bulk, two hundred thirty pounds the kindest scales say, that has enwrapped him at the age of fifty-five like a set of blankets the decades have brought one by one. His doctor down here keeps telling him to cut out the beer and munchies and each night after brushing his teeth he vows to but in the sunshine of the next day he’s hungry again, for anything salty and easy to chew. What did his old basketball coach, Marty Tothero, tell him toward the end of his life, about how when you get old you eat and eat and it’s never the right food? Sometimes Rabbit’s spirit feels as if it might faint from lugging all this body around. Little squeezy pains tease his ribs, reaching into his upper left arm. He has spells of feeling short of breath and mysteriously full in the chest, full of some pressing essence. When he was a kid and had growing pains he would be worried and the grownups around him laughed them off on his behalf; now he is unmistakably a grownup and must do his own laughing off.
A colorful octagonal nook of a shop selling newspapers and magazines and candy and coral souvenirs and ridiculous pastel T-shirts saying what bliss southwestern Florida is interrupts the severe gray spaces of the airport. Janice halts and says, “Could you wait here a sec till I see if they have the new Elle? And maybe I should go back and use the Ladies while I have the chance, the traffic going home might be terrible what with the weather continuing so beachy.”
“Now you think of it,” he says. “Well, do it if you’re going to do it.” The little Mamie Eisenhower bangs she still wears have grown skimpy with the years and curly with the humidity and saltwater and make her look childish and stubborn and cute, actually, along with the sun wrinkles.

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Rabbit at Rest 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The unparelled powers of Updike are on full display in Rabbit at Rest. His uncanny ability to extrapolate fascinating apsects from ostensibly mundane, day-to-day life never ceases to amaze. Rabbit at Rest focuses on the state of America under George Bush, Rabbit's relationship with his son, Nelson,(a product of the 70s that Rabbit has never, and will never understand), and his continual search to find something in life that made him feel as important as he was as a high school basketball star. Prurience and infidelity, of course, are firmly entrenched themes, but Updike presents them in a way that makes you understand the point of view of all parties involved. Rabbit at Rest is the densest of the Rabbit novels, and the writing style probably the most ornate. But for anyone who appreciates the power and beauty of words, Rabbit at Rest should be read. The ending is one of the greatest pieces of contemporary literature that has been create. Not sure if it equals Rabbit Redux, but it's quite close.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I believe this is the best of the four Rabbit novels. It presents an exceptional view of the aged Rabbit as he endures retirement with his family. Updike forces you too look at the world in such a unique way in this novel and explores the Reagan years in such an engaging and troubling way. You will think about this book long after you finish it.
AshRyan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As the title suggest, Rabbit at Rest is about death. It is obsessed with death, Updike's love song to it. He lovingly details Rabbit's aging and increasing frailty, from his clogged arteries and heart disease, to his decreasing sexual appetite, to his bathroom habits and his nostril hairs. He makes snide remarks about bodily functions practically every other sentence (which would be almost funny if it weren't just kind of sad and pathetic). He harps on such mundane aspects of life as if they had some metaphysical significance---or perhaps to insinuate that nothing does, which comes to the same thing. He writes things like (in this case, describing radio): "We are noisy vermin, crowding even the air." (Updike is basically a misanthrope with a flair for turning a phrase.) He writes that all material existence is sad because transitory, and there is no other kind.While this is all very wrong and unpleasant, there is a kind of internal unity and artistic integrity to it, and in places he seems almost as sincere as he did back at the beginning of the series in Rabbit, Run. Unfortunately, as the series progresses, it becomes increasingly about Rabbit's son Nelson, who is an even less sympathetic character and not nearly as interesting. I spent most of this book just waiting for Rabbit to die. But, if you've made it this far, all the way through Rabbit Redux and Rabbit is Rich, you may as well read this and finish the series off, as this is better than those were (but still not as good as the first).
literarilyspeaking1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was my favorite of the whole quartet, at least from what I can remember of Rabbit, Run. Nelson is still as annoying as he was in Rabbit is Rich (My review here) , but Harry is much less horrible than he was in Rabbit Redux (My review here). In fact, he seemed to mellow out a whole lot more and actually start to stand up for what he thought should happen instead of sitting back and taking it all.Janice started to redeem herself in my mind in this book, but kind of threw it all away in the latter part of the book. I didn't like her in Redux because she put herself before the welfare of her son, and she was just really, really dumb in Rich. She was still far too indulgent of Nelson and his immaturity, but she actually stood up to him, which he needed.As always, Updike was one of the masters of prose writing. Some of these passages are amazingly brilliant and detailed. Here's an example:Up, up; the air thins, the barometer registers, the timer begins to tick as the plane snugly bores through the darkness and the pilot chats on the radio while the cockpit lights burn and wink around him and the passengers nod over their drinks in their slots of pastel plastic. This image, like a seed at last breaking its shell in moist soil, awakens in Harry the realization that even now as he lies here in this antiseptic white fog tangled in tubes and ties of blood and marriage he is just like the people he felt so sorry for, falling from the burst-open airplane: he too is falling, helplessly falling, toward death. The fate awaiting him behind this veil of medical attention is as absolute as that which greeted those bodies fallen smack upon the boggy Scottish earth like garbage bags full of water.I'm still failing to see where this quartet is a "valentine to (Updike's) country" as Joyce Carol Oates said, but I think this is a book, if only for the prose alone, belongs in the American canon of great books.My rating: 8/10
agnesmack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was the fourth and final book in Updike's Rabbit series, and the 2nd of the series to win the Pulitzer. While I did love this book, it was definitely not the best of the series. One of the things I love about Updike is his attention to detail and the richness he brings to characters and situations but he went a little overboard in this book. It seemed that he'd done an awful lot of research for the series and wanted to make sure to jam all that remained into the last book.That said, it was still excellent. I haven't been huge into series in the past, but this was definitely a series that I am sad to see end. Rabbit was a rich character and it was really interesting to follow his life for 40 years, in 10 year increments.
alexrichman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Often held up as the best Rabbit novel, but I still think it lags behind the first. Visceral accounts of our protagonist's ill-health and a heart-stopping passage that echoes the superb bathtub scene of Rabbit Run, stick in the memory more than anything in the two intervening entries.
samatoha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
the best of all the rabbit books,which are all great.Updike achives the perfect combination between poetic,delicate symbols and authentic realism writing, a talent that grew bigger with experience and time.Rabbit tries to deal with the big questions of life and death in his uninitiated ways ,now (age 55) more profoundly and impressive than ever.Flaubert would have been proud of this book.a pure masterpiece of style,depths and enjoyment,that shows more truth about the rural,middle-class America than most other American fiction,and with much better quality.
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