A WRITER'S WIT
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”
Born August 2, 1924
My Book World
This novel seems to have a couple of parallels with Updike’s first book in the series—the saga of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. One, the novel focuses on a fairly short period, but the author takes the reader through events in what seems like real time. Yet the speed is never too slow. By taking his time, Updike moves the reader deeper into the characters’ psyches. A second parallel is the placement of an important death about two-thirds of the way through the novel. In Rabbit, Run, it is the death of Janice and Rabbit’s infant daughter, that awful drowning. In Redux, the death is not a family member, but it might as well be. When Rabbit’s wife Janice leaves to live with another man, Rabbit allows Jill, an eighteen-year-old girl, and Skeeter, her black male friend, to crash at their house. This causes a lot of problems for Rabbit, given the Republican point of view that he has adopted by 1969. The novel, in some ways, seems like a vehicle for thrashing out the Vietnam War, race relations in this Pennsylvania city. Jill eventually becomes Rabbit’s lover, and she also manages to seduce, in an emotional sense, Rabbit’s thirteen-year-old son, Nelson. When Skeeter ostensibly sets the house on fire, Jill dies, and her death nearly destroys Nelson. It is a powerful scene.
“The cop casually allows, ‘Anybody in there was cooked a half-hour ago.’
“Two steps away, Nelson is bent over to let vomit spill from his mouth. Rabbit steps to him and the boy allows himself to be touched. He holds him by the shoulders; it feels like trying to hold out of water a heaving fish that wants to go back under, that needs to dive back under or die. His father brings back his hair from his cheeks so it will not be soiled by vomit; with his fist he makes a feminine knot of hair at the back of the boy's hot soft skull. ‘Nellie, I’m sure she got out. She’s far away. She’s safe and far away’” (323).
They find a cheap room at the Safe Haven Motel, neither wanting to return to her parents’ house nor his parents’ place. Talk eventually turns to Jill’s demise.
“‘Did you love her?' [Janice asks]. For this her eyes leave his face and contemplate the trampled lawn. He remembers that this gray coat originally had a hood.
“He confesses to her, ‘Not like I should have. She was sort of too nice.’ Saying this makes him feel guilty, he imagines how hurt Jill would be hearing it, so to right himself he accuses Janice: ‘If you’d stayed in there [their bedroom], she’d still be alive.’
“Her eyes lift quickly. ‘No you don’t. Don’t try to pin that rap on me, Harry Angstrom. Whatever happened in there was your trip.’ Her trip drowns babies; his burns girls. They were made for each other” (395).
In another ten years, any reader would be able to read Rabbit Is Rich and find out. Luckily, I won’t have to wait that long. I’ve already checked out the library copy of Rabbit Is Rich and am ready to continue Updike’s saga of Rabbit Angstrom.
I think mysteries are sort of like road maps. You’re meant to use the information as you travel along, but you can’t study the entire map all at once. Only the writer can do that. This one is more of a cozy mystery, rather than a spy thriller, but Le Carré uses the same techniques. I’m not even sure what they are, such techniques. Withholding or minimizing or disguising information? Changing the POV here and there, away from the main character, George Smiley? Placing clues right before our faces, but because we’re not sure what we’re looking for, we don’t see them? Are most mystery readers, like me, just along for the ride, waiting to find out whodunit? And yet Le Carré has a great command of the language. One wonders why he didn’t write literary fiction instead, or did he?
Next in Le Carré's Smiley series: his popular, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold