Thursday, January 29, 2009

Food and Rabbit Angstrom

I loved John Updike's Rabbit books. A friend of mine passed them on to me when I was living in Japan, and I read all three out at the time (this was the mid-1980s) in a matter of weeks. Updike's writing was superb; there was something about Rabbit Angstrom, the former high school basketball star who ambles through jobs, women and life, that went to the very heart of the America of his era.

With bated breath I awaited publication of the next installment in Rabbit's life (the books are set late in each decade starting with the 1950s) . When "Rabbit at Rest" came out in 1990, I devoured it in two days.

Returning to the subject of this blog, Updike, who died earlier this week, used food in the books to make insightful observations about the America of each era. In "Rabbit Redux," the Angstrom family of the late 1960s , finding itself with more money and less time, has taken to eating many of its meals at a burger joint. Updike describes in exquisite detail the slightly metallic taste as Rabbit sucks down the dregs of his industrial milk shake, foretelling the soullessness of the coming fast food explosion.

In "Rabbit at Rest," set in late 1980s, Rabbit says he will have a stern talk about self discipline and responsibility with his near-do-well son . At the same moment, he anticipates the pleasant crumble of the fat-laden cookie he will eat afterwards, a treat his doctor has forbidden in the wake of his angioplasty. So much for self discipline and responsibility in the Age of Reagan.

And finally, there is the huge meal Rabbit scarves down at a roadside restaurant during his flight to Florida at the end of the book. Updike describes Rabbit's appetite as bottomless as he tucks into pecan pie and other forbidden foods. His eating habits will have dire consequences, just as America's orgy of consumption has today.

These are amazing books that I will remember for the rest of my life.

No comments:

Post a Comment