Sunday 18 July 2010

Rabbit Omnibus by John Updike

Rabbit Angstrom is Updike's vision of everyman, an ordinary man, living an ordinary life with an ordinary family in an ordinary neighbourhood, making the mistakes we all make and not really learning from them. This book is made up of three novels which follow Rabbit's life, concentrating in turn on the years 1959, 1969 and 1979.

Rabbit Run, the first book in the trilogy, is very well written but I found it boring and too focussed on the purely domestic. Rabbit Redux and Rabbit is Rich are both much more satisfying. In these novels, Updike mixes the very personal domestic scene very effectively with the politics and issues of the day. This puts Rabbit's life in context and gives a historical context to the series.

Rabbit is Rich is excellent on the burgeoning mainstream environmental awareness of the late 1970s:

'.......he helped that high-school teacher who was building his own home, with the solar panels and the cellar full of rocks that stored heat'

' why doesn't he go into something like that? That's where the future is, not selling cars. Cars have had it. The party's over. It's going to be all public transport twenty years from now. Ten years from now even.'

So what happened? Why has it has taken us until 2010 to start to get this back? And yes I know the availability of oil has a lot to do with it, but there must be more?


Tommaso Gervasutti said...

My final thesis at University should have been on Rabbit Redux but there was some trouble with the crazy professors and I was forced, in a way, to change, I ended up with Of The Farm.
I loved Updike's works, years later I read what would be for me the best "In The Beauty Of The Lilies".

Naquillity said...

thanks for the review. hope all is well.

DazyDayWriter said...

I'm glad you mention these books; I've always wanted to spend time with them ... so why not soon? Thanks for bringing them to my attention!

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

In response to your question, I think a lot of it is plain old inertia. Change is hard and expensive. Early adopters have it particularly tough because prices are high and there isn't a good support base or infrastructure.

In the 70s, early adopters of then-expensive solar panels looked like fools to everyone else when oil prices came down, and that's the memory that stuck with people through the 80s and 90s.

In the early 90s I was dating a guy who not only had a cell phone but didn't have a land line. Everyone thought he was nuts, and in a way, he was. The phone was bulky and was a battery hog. Service was erratic, when you could get it at all.

Mobile phones were an obvious improvement, conceptually, over land lines, and phone companies had probably sold about as many telephones as they were going to be able to. The combination of a new, eager market and declining sales in the old market for land-line phones led to rapid improvements and lower prices, and now it's very common to have cell phones but no land line.

Installing solar panels or some other form of green tech to heat/cool/power one's home doesn't have the same daily life benefit as being able to take your phone with you wherever you go. Your lights will turn on whether you're hooked to the grid or to a panel. As for public transportation, it's a clear step down in terms of convenience.

No compelling consumer incentive means less incentive for the sorts of improvements in green technology that would make it cheaper and more attractive. It's a shame more people won't choose green options out of the simple conviction that it's the right thing to do, but there you are.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Why has it taken us so long? Because we never learn.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Tomasso - I'll look out for In the Beauty of the Lilies!

Naquillity - thanks!

Dazy - hope you enjoy them when you read them!

bunnygirl - yes, there's a lot of sense in what you say, and I know I'm not typical in not having a mobile phone and in thinking green without thought necessarily of personal convenience (though we don't have solar panels because of the building being shared and roof rights being a bit complicated)

Weaver indeed, we never do

Oh said...

I looked at a hybrid car today, considering one. But, no. They're not right, not ready yet. I'm better off to drive far less, to use a small car that only breathes gas and goes for miles.

Don't know what's taking all this car thing so long, but watch for Tesla. There are some people working on his non-fuel principles that have come up with a car.

I know - cars are only the tip of the iceberg. Here in the Midwest suburbs of STL,there are (finally) more mass transit buses to reduce "car" traffic and it has caught on. People are using them and leaving the cars at home.
Baby steps, but steps nonetheless.

bunnits said...

Reading these titles took me back many years to the first years of my marriage when my husband and I read these together. Thanks.

EG CameraGirl said...

Hmmm. Cars are so much more convenient than other forms of transportation. North Americans (and probably Europeans) think we deserve to do everything the easy way. Riding a bike is hard work and waiting for a bus or train is boring. Take the car and you can go when you want to. We are spoiled and don't want to give it up. Very sad, but true.

RG said...

Well, (obviously?) I have read those Rabbit books. I found two themes from them, slightly different than your comments.

One was that for Rabbit, the fight against everything slowly falling down was so taxing that he never broke free. That aspect of the books was so depressing for me.

The second was that Rabbit was so stuck in how things "should" be that change or new was hard. As such he is everyman and a huge reason why all those notions took so long (and some never came at all) and until "everybody is doing it".

Nice to remember good old Rabbit again! Thanks.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Rabbits Guy - yes i noticed those themes and others too, but I usually write very short reviews here and don't fit in more than a couple of themes....

Caroline Gill said...

I always enjoy the pointers you give us, Juliet.

Great to see a mention of UNTHINKABLE SKIES in MSLEXIA!

Chatters said...

I have never heard of these books, but sound like good books. Thanks for the review.

People still think we are mad because we don't have a car and I walk everywhere and rely on public transport.

I agree, we are spoilt now. It was not that long ago when lots of people didn't have a car. I don't really see not having a car as being inconvenient but I'm not typical.

HKatz said...

Thanks for the review; I'll be adding these books to my (ambitious) list of books to read.

It's going to be all public transport twenty years from now. Ten years from now even.'

Just to talk about trains as one example - it's one thing to live in a big city or in a network of big cities (I live in an urban environment, have never owned a car, and either walk or take public transport everywhere). But though it's possible to travel by train from one coast to another here in the U.S., I don't know at this point in time how costly it would be to lay more tracks and establish more routes - and even if these routes and tracks were to multiply by a good amount, I don't think they could match the flexibility and reach of a car. I personally would love to see more train routes, but I don't think the car could be phased out entirely. As for buses, there are many inter-city and inter-town bus routes in the US and they generally have more flexibility and stops than trains - but even then, a car offers privacy and independence to a greater degree.

Crafty Green Poet said...

EGWOW, HKatz - I think public transport is better in Europe where the population densities are greater than in the US. Even here though (eg in Scotland) there are rural areas where there isn't a particularly good public transport infrastructure, so people need to use cars. A lot of people in rural Scotland though can't afford to run a car.... In a city like Edinburgh the number of people owning cars is relatively small, we have a car club where people share cars and we have excellent public transport