Another piece off the TIME Top 100 list, I felt obligated to slough through this one because of (maybe misplaced) Pennsylvania pride. That is the only reason I could carry myself through to the end of the book.
I can see why the technical mastery of Updike's prose would land this in the TIME Top 100 list. I guess. (His editor should have cared less about excising the sex scenes and more about needless wordiness in other parts, especially towards the end. Or did the end only seem to drag because I was so close to finishing and just wanted the damn thing to be over already?) Yes, Updike has an eye for detail and the writing, quite often, is beyond anything I will ever hope to produce. But fuck that.
Even if the writing is great, the characters are all horrible, and while Updike has made them each horrible in their own way, I still didn't want to spend a single word more with them I had too. The sole exception to this, maybe, was Ruth, except that she also somehow seemed enamored of Rabbit for no reason at all except maybe Updike was throwing in a little self-insert here and there. The bits of stream of consciousness here and there also don't really add much to the novel except to be annoying.
Or maybe they're a call back to On the Road, which was the impetus for Updike bringing Harry Angstrom to literary life to begin with. I can even empathize with why he wrote it, because I also think On the Road is a self-indulgent overrated turd of a novel. But much like when I'm having a conversation with someone and learn that their reason for hating George W. Bush's presidency is because he wasn't conservative enough, the enemy of my enemy does not a friend make.
Harry Angstrom is a dick. He is not some great confused and alienated everyman, a statement on the condition of a materialistic and over-consuming Cold War era society. He is an asshole. Updike could have redeemed himself by killing this asshole at the end of the book, but no. He brings back Rabbit in really too many sequels, more fitting for a slasher movie franchise than a literary milestone.
Not only is Harry Angstrom a terrible person, there is not one person in this book worth liking. They are all unhappy and miserable and kind of unattractive (except for the women Rabbit wants to sleep with). There are also a lot of characters who have decided, for whatever reason, that Rabbit is a really fascinating and interesting man. Eccles is chief among them, but the woman with the rhododendrons (YOU KEPT ME ALIVE, HARRY~~) and Ruth as well identify a certain je ne sais quoi about Harry. Harry Angstrom is a straight male white dude's Bella Swann: dull enough so that the (presumably male) readership can project themselves into him, yet everyone in the book's universe is fawning over him for a whole variety of reasons.
In a one word review: vomit.