‘Aesthetically fully and spiritually empty’ is how I would describe Updike’s opus, the detail with which Updike is able to imbue even the most quotidian elements of the novel-from the flicker of the moonbeams on a flaccid night to the details of a hospital curtain creates a world which is, somewhat paradoxically, alive and yet devoid of any life, instead the characters who populate it are damp squibs against the prismatic pallete which Updike is able to render for the world they inhabit. The dampest of all these squibs is the lead character, Rabbit, a miserable, mendacious second-rate failure whose inadequacies are, somewhat incredulously, excused by those around him. In many ways Rabbit embodies the most atypical of characters-the privileged white male who is so caught up in self-pity that he fails to realise (or care) about the impact of his actions on those around him and is caught up in a perpetual juvenile angst which is enabled by the world around him which can forgive him any indiscretion. After a while this can grate on the reader, as Rabbit’s unpleasantness only serves to increase and the reader becomes increasingly eager to rid himself of Rabbit’s lurid self obsession.
Nevertheless it is Updike’s uncanny ability to fashion a world around Rabbit which is replete with tiny, beautiful detail which is the true strength of the novel. There is no questioning Updike’s ability to paint a pretty picture or to recreate the world, even one as humdrum as Rabbit’s WASPish world, however it is harder to forger the unpleasant presence of the character this world rotates around; one can only hope, as Updike himself states, that Rabbit is not seen as an antihero or sympathetically, but for the cruel and capricious man he is. However I suspect that, despite his protestations, and given the bland, Joycean stream-of-consciousness narrative of Rabbit’s two romantic interests, that Updike is attempting to gain a kernel of sympathy for Rabbit and this is where the moral basis of the story falls down.