black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: rabbit is rich (john updike)

alright, look. john updike is one of only three authors who've won the pulitzer prize for fiction more than once** - for rabbit is rich and rabbit at rest, novels which are packaged in this handy little volume in soothing blue that flung itself at my feet like so much sea glass when i was wandering around columbus circle several months ago. ever wonder why books in my life seem to behave like the necronomicon in the evil dead movies? i do not, internet; i'm no philosopher, and i let them do what they will.

rabbit is rich finds harry (rabbit) angstrom in his forties in the seventies, pulling down a salary in the high five digits and hovering around two-fifteen with a forty-two waist. updike flings numbers about like a bingo caller at the beginning of the book, but that handful's the one that really matters: we're here to know what's become of rabbit.*** he's now helming his dead father-in-law's successful toyota dealership, working side by side (and now best friends) with the crafty greek who romanced his wife in rabbit redux, the second book of the tetralogy. disco on the radio, platforms on the hot young ethnic types downtown. here's updike on rabbit is rich:
The novel contains a number of scenes distinctly broad in their comedy: amid the inflationary abundance of money, Harry and [his wife] Janice copulate on a blanket of gold coins and stagger beneath the weight of 888 silver dollars as they lug their speculative loot up the eerily deserted main drag of Brewer. A Shakespearian swap and shuffle of couples takes place in the glimmering Arcadia of a Caribbean island, and a wedding rings out at the novel’s midpoint. “Life is sweet, that’s what they say,” Rabbit reflects in the last pages. Details poured fast and furious out of my by now thoroughly mapped and populated Diamond Country. The novel is fat, in keeping with its theme of inflation, and [Harry's daughter-in-law] Pru is fat with her impending child, whose growth is the book’s secret action, its innermost happiness.
the "swap and shuffle" he mentions is in fact the novel's core: while the oil crisis, the japanese auto boom, and harry's now-rotten son becoming a husband and father fill a few pages, this is the story of whether or not harry will manage to sleep with cindy murkett, a country-club friend's trophy wife whose cardinal trait is her fascinating inability to stay put in a diaperlike bikini. it would be unsporting of me to spoil that plot point for you, but i will say that the caribbean wife-swap is more baffling than most of shakespeare's (and that marriage for updike characters - as in, say, a shakespearean problem comedy like measure for measure - is a form of justice; it hardly "rings out"). david foster wallace, writing in '97 on generation X re: updike:
I'm guessing that for the young educated adults of the 60s and 70s, for whom the ultimate horror was the hypocritical conformity and repression of their own parents' generation, Mr. Updike's evocation of the libidinous self appeared redemptive and even heroic. But the young educated adults of the 90s -- who were, of course, the children of the same impassioned infidelities and divorces Mr. Updike wrote about so beautifully -- got to watch all this brave new individualism and self-expression and sexual freedom deteriorate into the joyless and anomic self-indulgence of the Me Generation. Today's sub-40s have different horrors, prominent among which are anomie and solipsism and a peculiarly American loneliness: the prospect of dying without once having loved something more than yourself.
i was a sub-20 at the time, but that landscape is familiar - and like DFW, i'm puzzled that updike seems to "[persist] in the bizarre adolescent idea that getting to have sex with whomever one wants whenever one wants is a cure for ontological despair." internet, rabbit is rich and i - like mortified swappers, i'd imagine - have little to say to one another.

VICTOR: mitchell, with a few quick punches to vital organs. perhaps the laurels affected updike's reach.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 am i alone in suspecting that the necronomicon would make an amazing halloween costume?

02 did you realize the hyperlink in the evil dead reference up there was to a german trailer? go on, i'll wait.

03 does the idea of having sex on a pile of money appeal to you?

04 how do you feel about shakespeare's fifth-act marriagepaloozas?

05 can marriage be an effective form of justice?

06 do you know how to remove color hairspray from brickwork?

07 how has december been treating you?

*previous battle here.

**the others are booth tarkington (the magnificent ambersons and alice adams) and william faulkner (a fable and the reivers).

***also i wanted to know how long it would take updike to gross me out (seventeen pages: "Cunt would be a good flavor of ice cream, Sealtest ought to work on it.")


anonymous said...

Pretty much no to everthing.

Amid Privilege said...

Um, that was me, with the Southern spelling of everything.

kidchamp said...

damn; that spray stuff is really stubborn.

Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

03: Which currency?
05: Not when one in two defendants gets commutation of sentence.
07: Better now.  I could read your Thundertome™ posts all day.
0?: It’s too bad Updike didn’t live to see Ben and Jerry premiere their new 2011 flavor “Hamlet’s Country Matters”.

prac, schmac said...

6) "CLR" is amazing. just removed oxygenated fertilzer stains from our brand new yet-to-be-sealed travertine pavers. my b.

Amanda said...

01/02/05/06: No  
03: What size pile?  
04: I love them despite myself.  
05: Without-snow-fully