Sentence of Good Fortune; Heady in Here Please to Licks of Love - Short Stories and A Sequel, Rabbit Remembered. by John Updike (Hamish Hamilton, Pounds 16.99). Reviewed by Peter Bacon Updike Is, like the Best Novelists, Non-Judgmental of His Characters Pull out Quote to Fit in This Space Here Please
Byline: Peter Bacon
He didn't intend to devote four full novels to the character when, in 1959, he started work on Rabbit, Run. In fact, he wasn't even sure he could make more than a novella out of the school basketball star now confronting the second half of his 20s and the reality that his small moments of glory might be over.
But gradually, down the decades, the life of Harry Angstrom has become, in the author's own words, 'a kind of running report on the state of my hero and his nation'.
And so, 1960's Rabbit, Run was followed by Rabbit Redux in 1971, Rabbit Is Rich in 1981 and Rabbit At Rest in 1990.
Updike showed a certain prescience when he had Angstrom's father-in-law bring him into his small Toyota dealership in 1971. The author wasn't to know that by the end of that decade the Japanese car market, bolstered by all the OPEC troubles of the 70s and their effect on the American gas-guzzlers, would flourish quite so dramatically.
And hence the title of the 1981 book.
So much for the state of the nation aspect. There were reflections too in the books of the author's own experiences. The death of his mother and his experiences visiting her in hospital give valuable source material for the death of Rabbit in Florida in 1990.
So how, at the turn of the millennium, was Updike to resist returning to the characters he, and we, had grown to know and therefore love.
The novella which appears at the end of this collection opens with the arrival on the doorstep of Janice Harrison (Rabbit's widow, now remarried) of Annabelle Byer. With the classic line, 'I guess you were married to my father,' the connection becomes as clear as it's going to get in the confused extended families of our times.
Annabelle, it turns out, is the daughter of Ruth, and the fruit of the affair Rabbit had back in the first book.
As the title suggests, and as a millennial dateline encourages, there is a lot of remembering in this fascinating postscript. Annabelle meets Nelson, her half-brother, and they each remember their father - his character common though his life was split in two.
As before, Updike captures the era exquisitely, with e-mails and contemporary TV programme references, etc.
But while many lesser novelists use trade names and specific cultural references as a substitute for creating their own fictional world, Updike merely adds them as decorations, pleasurable asides to the main creations, his multi-layered characters. …