Rabbit, Run Background

About Rabbit, Run

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Rabbit, Run was, to put it bluntly, the book that made John Updike - a mere twenty-eight years old at the time - a star. When it was published in 1960, Rabbit, Run heralded a distinctly new voice in American literature. The blending of precision and poetry in its language, its raw and graphic sexuality, its amoral characters, and the careful attention it paid to the minutiae of middle-class life were all more or less new to the public. Although it owed much of its vision and many of its strategies to Nabokov, Joyce, Woolf, and the cinema, Updike combined these elements in a way that was nothing less than startling. Indeed, Knopf feared that the sex in the novel might lead to obscenity charges, and even legal action. Changes were made to the American version of the text, but the omitted passages were restored for a British version, and all subsequent publications of the book have presented the text intact. Though the novel did prove highly controversial among critics, it sold like hotcakes: by the end of the first year, more than twenty thousand copies had been purchased. The figure today is closer to 2.5 million.

In recent interviews, Updike has seemed to express regret that Rabbit, Run remains the work for which he is best known. Nonetheless, it is a definitive piece of American fiction and a troubling document of the Eisenhower era: Updike's prose seems to point to the simultaneous revolutions in cinema (the films of Cassavetes, Rouch, Wiseman, and Chabrol) and music (the jazz of Monk, Davis, and Coltrane). It is a work that both vividly reflects its time and is unquestionably timeless.