For those of us who are contemporaries of Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom, it is a sad day. John Updike, his creator, has decided to put Rabbit to "rest."
For three decades we have watched him blundering along, impetuous and perverse in ways we might find deplorable but also undeniably human. Updike has a certain logic in wanting to round out Rabbit's life with a final volume, and he does so in his usual elegant style.But for his readers - or at least those males who have shared a life with Rabbit - it seems too abrupt, too unforgiving, too soon.
Most novels end on a happy or dramatic note - or at least they aim for an epiphany that will enable the reader to accept the rightness of the author's conclusion.
But Rabbit crested even before we were introduced to him in "Rabbit, Run," and, with insouciant exceptions, it has been downhill ever since. In that first scene, Rabbit relives his glory as a high school basketball star by barging into a game young boys are playing in an alley.
Rabbit keeps trying, and failing, to regain that feeling. Now John Updike has brought Rabbit full circle, ending as he began, going up for a basket, reaching for that magic once more before it is lost forever, a 56-year-old man with a damaged heart, once again on the run.
While taking Rabbit from young manhood to premature obsolescence, Updike has forged his own bemused but remorselessly detailed vision of our culture, middle American variety - its religions, politics, science, daily news, everyday life.
"Rabbit, Run," set in the 1950s, established Rabbit as an earthy stand-in for all the male restlessness, juvenile nostalgia and vague angst afloat in America. With Rabbit as his naive observer and instinctive philosopher, Updike has depicted the ravages of the 1960s leavened by the thrill of landing on the moon ("Rabbit, Redux"), the inward-turning complacency of the 1970s shaken by the oil embargo and the hostages imprisoned in Iran ("Rabbit Is Rich"), and now, in "Rabbit at Rest," the uneasiness of the 1980s, with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, the drug wars, the S&L debacle, the polluting of our environment, the end of optimism and the dimming of the American dream in a fog of materialistic greed.
In "Rabbit at Rest," Rabbit is semiretired and living in Florida half the year, enjoying the fruits of his good luck - wealth from the Toyota agency his wife inherited and a mellowness that middle age has settled on his marriage to Janice, the "dumb mutt" from whom he has run away so often. But he feels useless, a conspicuous consumer feeding on the shallow commercialism that masks a deepening malaise in America.
But Rabbit still has a way with women, even if it shows only in the sighs of old lovers, a glint in his daughter-in-law's eye, the playfulness of his granddaughter, the comfortable proximity of his wife, the curiosity of the girl who may be his illegitimate daughter. He remains intrigued with everything feminine. Women, in Rabbit's exuberantly sexist view, are a man's best reward, his due.
But Rabbit is also complex and endearing; it is painful to see him paying the penalty for his sins, for being human. It reminds us too much of our own failings, our own near future. We want to shout at Rabbit to run once more - against the grain of time.
How could Updike do this to us. Run Rabbit, run!