Only eight years ago, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom was the star of his high school basketball team. Now, he is married with a child and another on the way. He works a dead-end job and returns home every day to a listless, dull wife with a worsening drinking problem. And so one day, without premeditation or destination, he simply gets in the car and drives away: "He wanted to go south, down, down the map into orange groves and smoking rivers and barefoot women. It seems simple enough, drive all night through the dawn through the morning through the noon park on a beach take off your shoes and fall asleep by the Gulf of Mexico. Wake up with the stars above perfectly spaced in perfect health." Harry eventually returns to his Pennsylvania hometown, but not to his wife, shacking up instead with a very young woman, Ruth, who has slid into casual prostitution. His wife's Episcopal minister befriends Harry in an attempt to guide him back to his family, but the allure of separation -- and perhaps the act of leaving itself -- has ingrained itself inside Harry as a perpetual temptation. Although he returns, he cannot stay: stifled and restless, he runs, and runs again.
Published in 1960, when John Updike
was 28 years old, RABBIT, RUN raised eyebrows for its explicit treatment of sex and adultery, as well as for its moral ambiguity. Rabbit is weak and selfish, easily putting his own personal fulfillment above the welfare of his wife and child -- and yet it is when he attempts to conform to society's domestic expectations that he is most lost, and most quietly sympathetic in his despair. His character -- which Updike returned to in four later works -- is often read as a sort of stand-in for the average suburban family man, but Updike resisted such an interpretation, telling a TIME reporter in 1960, "If the book has any sociological value, that's fine, but it was not the purpose of writing it. There is a certain necessary ambiguity. I don't wish my fiction to be any clearer than life." Previous