My Book World
I’d never read any Updike before but thought that I would like to peruse at least the first book in his “Rabbit” series. I was surprised at the freshness of his language, over fifty years later. Surprised at the sensual/sexual nature of a young man’s relationships with two different women. Updike may be among the first American writers to see that sex is like a sixth sense. To be honest, the writer must portray it honestly. I’m not sure I could have tolerated reading this novel when I was Rabbit’s age, twenty-six, would have seen too much of my own fecklessness in the narrative, too much of my own wavering. This wife, that wife. This life, that life. Only after a lifetime can I read of such things and not be turned away, can wallow in them, because yes, I’ve been there, to some degree, and arrived somewhat unscathed.
The death of Rabbit and Janice’s baby girl was completely out of the blue, as most of life’s terrible events are, but at the same time, Updike had prepared the reader for such an event. The baby girl, Rebecca, has been crying for a long time, is hungry, but Janice, the mother, is dry, has no milk for the moment. Both parents are exhausted, the little older brother Nelson is worn out, too.
“The noise makes Nelson fretful and whiny. As if, being closest to the dark gate from which the baby has recently emerged, he is most sensitive to the threat the infant is trying to warn them of. Some shadow invisible to their better-formed senses seems to grab Rebecca as soon as she is left alone. Rabbit puts her down, tiptoes into the living-room; they hold their breath. Then, with a bitter scratch, the membrane of silence breaks, and the wobbly moan begins again, Nnh, a-nnnnnih!”
Yes, the “warning” is somewhat abstract, but this dark shadow is cautioning the young couple to be careful. They are not. Rabbit encourages his alcoholic wife to have a drink to calm her nerves. She takes down several. Rabbit leaves the apartment. In bathing the child, the slippery little baby, in a tub that is filled with too much water, for even an adult, Janice lets go, the baby falls away from her and drowns.
Updike has warned us, and yet we are shocked. Shocked that something like this, even in a novel, could happen. That the carelessness of a young couple could result in the death of their child. And yet the death is so much more. It seems to be the symbol for their failed marriage. By not caring for one another enough, they kill off what little love is left, and the tangible sign of this death is the baby’s death, isn’t it?
I shall be reading Rabbit Redux, the next novel in Updike’s series.
I'm not sure why I read these two men in tandem, both of them coming to prominence in the 1960s, but I'm going to roll with it, and see where my reading takes me.
I’ve always been interested in the character George Smiley, and when I saw this title in a used bookstore, the first in Le Carré’s series about the spy, I grabbed it. This kind of narrative involves so much cold information, facts and figures about murders, disappearances, betrayals, that I find it more difficult to concentrate on than a narrative that flows of normal interactions between normal people. And that may be the point. Spies are not normal people. But I shall read the author's next one, A Murder of Quality.