November 30, 1981 12:00 PM

by John Updike

Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is alive, more or less well, and living somewhere in a corner of John Updike’s imagination, for which we should all be thankful. While much of Updike’s recent fiction has been indifferently successful, this return to the hero of his Rabbit, Run (1960) and Rabbit Redux (1971) is an aggressive literary maneuver. Rabbit, the onetime schoolboy basketball star whose life has gone downhill ever since, has reached a new stage in life; he is, indeed, a relatively rich car dealer, but his emotions and ambitions are exhausted, his ideals worn threadbare. He is settling in, waiting resignedly to be besieged by old age. His biggest passion is Consumer Reports. While he’s trying to lie in bed and read it one night, his tipsy wife kisses him hungrily. The result: “He tastes Gallo, baloney, and toothpaste while his mind is still trying to sort out the virtues and failings of the great range of can openers put to the test over five close pages of print.” This is often a funny book, but there’s too much pain in it for it to be considered comic. Rabbit’s estranged from his son and disengaged from life; the best thing he has to look forward to is savoring memories. Not as autobiographical as much of Updike’s writing of late, this novel is less strained and far more convincing. It is also, at times, painfully moving. (Knopf, $13.95)

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