White Rabbit

"John Updike, the kaleidoscopically gifted writer whose quartet of Rabbit novels highlighted a body of fiction, verse, essays and criticism so vast, protean and lyrical as to place him in the first rank of American authors, died on Tuesday in Danvers, Mass.

His best-known protagonist, Harry Rabbit Angstrom, first appears as a former high-school basketball star trapped in a loveless marriage and a sales job he hates.

Through the four novels whose titles bear his nickname — "Rabbit, Run," "Rabbit Redux," "Rabbit Is Rich" and "Rabbit at Rest" — the author traces the funny, restless and questing life of this middle-American against the background of the last half-century's major events." - Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

"John Updike shows how vapid American culture really is."- AA

Rabbit, Run 1960

Hearing this speech has made the sliding sickness in her so steep that Janice wonders if she can keep her grip on the phone.

"Don't come over, Mother," she begs. "Please."

"I'll have a bite of lunch and be over in twenty minutes. You go to bed."

Janice replaces the receiver and looks around her with horror.

The apartment is horrible.

Panicked with the double idea of not disturbing Nelson and of concealing Harry's absence, she runs to the crib and nightmarishly finds it smeared with orange mess.

"Damn you, damn you," she moans to Rebecca, and lifts the little filthy thing out and wonders where to carry her. She takes her to the armchair and biting her lips unpins the diaper.

"Oh you little shit," she murmurs, feeling that the sound of her voice is holding off the other person who is gathering in the room.

She takes the soaked daubed diaper to the bathroom and drops it in the toilet and dropping to her knees fumbles the bathtub plug into its hole.

She notices the glass of watery whisky she left on the top of the toilet and takes a long stale swallow and then puzzles how to get it off her hands.

All the while Rebecca screams as if she has mind enough to know she's filthy.

Janice takes the glass with her and spills it on the rug with her knee while she strips the baby of its nightie and sweater.

Her head aches with all this jarring up and down.

Her knees sting from so much kneeling.

She gives up and to her surprise sits flatly on a kitchen chair.

Hide the whisky.

Her body doesn't move for a second but when it does she sees her hands with the little lines of dirt on her fingernails put the whisky bottle into a lower cabinet with some old shirts.

She shuts the door, it bangs but doesn't catch, and on the edge of linoleum beside the sink the cork cap of the whisky bottle stares at her like a little top hat.

She puts it in the garbage bag.

Now the kitchen is clean enough.

In the living-room Rebecca is lying naked in the fuzzy armchair with her belly puffing out sideways to yell and her lumpy curved legs clenched and red.

Janice's other baby was a boy and it still seems unnatural to her, between the girl's legs, those two little buns of fat instead of a boy's plump stub.

When the doctor had Nelson circumcised Harry hadn't wanted him to as he hadn't been and thought it was unnatural, she had laughed at him he was so mad.

The wavery gray line of the water is almost up to the lip of the tub.

She wishes she could have the bath.

Brimful of composure she returns to the living room.

She tips too much trying to dig the tiny rubbery thing out of the chair so drops to her knees and scoops Rebecca into her arms and carries her into the bathroom held sideways against her breasts.

She is proud to be carrying this to completion; at least the baby will be clean when Mother comes.

She drops gently to her knees by the big calm tub and does not expect her sleeves to be soaked.

The water wraps around her forearms like two large hands; under her eyes the pink baby sinks down like a gray stone.

With a sob of protest she grapples for the child but the water pushes up at her hands, her bathrobe tends to float, and the slippery thing squirms in the sudden opacity.

She has a hold, feels a heartbeat on her thumb, and then loses it, and the skin of the water leaps with pale refracted oblongs.

Then she has Becky squeezed in her hands and it is all right. She lifts the living thing into air and hugs it against her sopping chest.

Water pours off them onto the bathroom tiles.

The little weightless body flops against her neck.

A contorted memory of how they give artificial respiration pumps Janice's cold wet arms in frantic rhythmic hugs.

Though her wild heart bathes the universe in red, no spark kindles in the space between her arms; for all of her pouring prayers she doesn't feel the faintest tremor of an answer in the darkness against her.

Her sense of the third person within widens enormously, and she knows, knows, while knocks sound at the door, that the worst thing that has ever happened to any woman in the world has happened to her.

truth serum 99.99% alcohol

Dear Mr.Fantasy

Rabbit Redux 1971

Jill goes on gently, "Americans are exploiters. The first things they exploit are themselves."

Lifting her face, her eyes fixed and her freckles a constellation, "You've never given yourself a chance to think, except on self-exploitative techniques, basketball and printing. You carry an old God with you, and an angry old patriotism. And now an old wife."

He takes breath to protest, but her hand begs him to let her finish.

"You accept these things as sacred not out of love or faith but fear; your thought is frozen because the first moment when your instincts failed, you raced to the conclusion that everything is nothing, that zero is the real answer. As we see in Vietnam."

He at last can speak.

"There was violence in Vietnam before we ever heard of the fucking place.

You can see by just the way I'm sitting here listening to this crap I'm basically a pacifist."

He points at Skeeter. "He's the violent son of a bitch."

"But you see," Jill says, her voice lulling and nagging, with just a teasing ragged hem showing of the voice she uses in bed, "the reason Skeeter annoys and frightens you is you don't know a thing about his Afro-American history."

Skeeter's face is shedding its shell of scorn and writhing as if to cry.

He has taken his glasses off.

He is reaching toward Jill for the marijuana cigarette, keeping his eyes on Rabbit's face.

Rabbit is frozen, his mind racing. Nelson. Put him to bed. Seeing too much.

His own face as he listens to Skeeter feels weak, shapeless, slipping.

The beer tastes bad, of malt. Skeeter wants to cry, to yell.

"So what did the South do? They said baboon and lynched and whipped and cheated the black man of what pennies he had and thanked their white Jesus they didn't have to feed him anymore.

And what did the North do? It copped out. It pulled out. It had put on all that muscle for the war and now it was wading into the biggest happiest muck of greed and graft and exploitation and pollution and slum-building and Indian-killing this poor old whore of a planet has ever been saddled with?

The Southern assholes got together with the Northern assholes and said, Let's us do a deal. And that was the Revolution of 1876. Far as the black man goes, that's the '76 that hurt, the one a hundred years before was just a bunch of English gents dodging taxes."

let them eat gold

Born To Be Wild

Rabbit is Rich 1981

Janice has on underpants beneath her nightie but no bra and in the bright light her nipples show inside the cloth with their own pink color, darker, more toward wine.

She is saying, "It's a hard age. They seem to have so many choices and yet they don't. They've been taught by television all their lives to want this and that and yet when they get to be twenty they find money isn't so easy to come by after all. They don't have the opportunities even we had."

In bed, perhaps it's the rain that sexes him up, he insists they make love, though at first Janice is reluctant.

"I would have taken a bath," she says, but she smells great, deep jungle smell, of precious rotting mulch going down and down beneath the ferns.

When he won't stop, crazy to lose his face in this essence, the cool stem fury of it takes hold of her and combatively she comes, thrusting her hips up to grind her clitoris against his face and then letting him finish inside her beneath him.

Lying spent and adrift he listens again to the rain's sound, which now and then quickens to a metallic rhythm on the window glass, quicker than the throbbing in the iron gutter, where ropes of water twist.


"This is horrible," Nelson announces from the sofa. "What'd we drag this poor guy in here for anyway? Pru and I didn't ask to be married in a church, I don't believe any of that stuff."

"You don't?" Harry is shocked, hurt.

"Nobody knows for sure," Pru points out in a quiet voice.

Nelson asks her furiously, "How many dead people have you seen?"

Even as a child, Harry remembers, Nelson's face would get white around the gills when he was angry.

He would get nervous stomach aches, and clutch at the edge of the banister on his way upstairs to get his books.

They would send him off to school anyway.

Harry still had his job at Verity.

Janice was working part-time at the lot.

They had no babysitter.

School was the babysitter.



Her voice presses into his ear. "I want to do something for you so you won't forget me, something you've never had with anybody else. I suppose other women have sucked you off?"

He shakes his head yes, which tugs the flesh of her breast.

"How many have you fucked up the ass?"

He lets her nipple slip from his mouth. "None. Never."

"You and Janice?"

"Oh God no. It never occurred to us."

"Harry. You're not fooling me?"

How dear that was, her old-fashioned "fooling."

From talking to all those third-graders.

"No, honestly. I thought only queers ... Do you and Ronnie?"

"I am a Catholic and Ronnie is a Jew. So we do it a lot of the time. He loves it."

"And you?"

"It has its charms."

"Doesn't it hurt? I mean, he's big."

"At first. You use Vaseline. I'll get ours."

"Thelma, wait. Am I up to this?"

She laughs a syllable. "You're up."

She slides away into the bathroom and while she is gone he stays enormous.

She returns and anoints him thoroughly, with an icy expert touch.

Harry shudders.

Thelma lies down beside him with her back turned, curls forward as if to be shot from a cannon, and reaches behind to guide him.

fanny in ecstasy


It seems it won't go, but suddenly it does.

The medicinal odor of displaced Vaseline reaches his nostrils.

The grip is tight at the base but beyond, where a cunt is all velvety suction and caress, there is no sensation: a void, a pure black box, a casket of perfect nothingness.

He is in that void, past her tight ring of muscle.

He asks, "May I come?"

"Please do."

Her voice sounds faint and broken.

Her spine and shoulder blades are taut.

It takes only a few thrusts, while he rubs her scalp with one hand and clamps her hip steady.

"O.K.," he says. "Thank you. That I won't forget."


"I feel embarrassed. What does it do for you?"

"Makes me feel full of you. Makes me feel fucked up the ass. By lovely Harry Angstrom."

"Thelma," he admits, "I can't believe you're so fond of me.

Bette Davis Eyes

She's Not There

Rabbit at Rest 1990

Everything falling apart, aeroplanes, bridges, eight years under Reagan of nobody minding the store, making money out of nothing, running up debt, trusting in god.

"You weren't quite yourself today," Bernie admits. " You got girlfriend trouble or something?"

Horny, Jews: he once read a history of Talmudwood about their womanizing.

Harry Cohn, Groucho Marx, the Warner Brothers, they went crazy out there with the sunshine and swimming pools and all the Midwestern shiksas who'd do anything to be movie stars.

Janice would get back at ten-thirty at the earliest.

There was plenty of time to see this through.

He relaxes back into his pillows. Good he had that nap this afternoon.

"Is that how you see it?" he asks. "He was a shit to you?"

"Absolutely. Terrible. Out all night doing God knows what, then this snivelling and begging for forgiveness afterwards. I hate that worse than the chasing; my father was a boozer and a chaser, but then he wouldn't whine to Mom about it, he'd at least let her do the whining. This immature dependence of Nelson's was totally outside my experience."

Her cigarette tip glows.

A distant concussion of thunder steps closer.

Pru's presence here feels hot in Harry's mind, she is awkwardly big and all sharp angles.

Her talk seems angular and tough, the gritty Akron toughness overlaid with a dismissive vocabulary learned from professional coppers.

He doesn't like hearing his son called immature.

"You knew him for some time out at Kent," he points out, almost hostilely.

"Harry, I didn't," she says, and the cigarette tip loops through an agitated arc.

"I thought he'd grow, I never dreamed how enmeshed he was, with you two. He's still trying to work out what you two did to him, as if you were the only parents in the world who didn't keep wiping their kid's ass until he was thirty. A thing that goes fast with coke is shame; these women that are hooked will do anything. I say to him, You're not going to give me AIDS from one of your coke whores. So he goes out again. It's a vicious circle. It's been going on for years."

"How many years, would you say?"

When she shrugs her shoulders, Ma's old bed shakes.

"More than you'd think. That crowd around Slim was always doing pot and uppers - gays don't give a damn, they have all this money only for themselves. Maybe two years ago Nelson became a big enough user on his own to need to steal. At first he just stole from us, money that should have gone into the house and stuff, and then he started stealing from you - the company. I hope you send him to jail."

She has been cupping her hand beneath the cigarette, to catch the ash, and now she looks around for an ashhtray and sees none and finally flips the butt toward the window, where it sparks against the screen and sizzles out on the wet sill.

Her voice is hoarsening and finding a certain swing, a welling up.

"I'm scared to fuck him, I'm scared to be legally associated with him. I've wasted my life. My husband hates me and I hate him and we don't even have any money to split up! I'm scared - so scared. And my kids are scared, too. I'm trash and they're trash and they know it."

"Hey, hey," he has to say. "Come on. Nobody's trash."

But even as he says it he knows this is an old-fashioned idea he would have trouble defending.

Without God to lift us up and make us into angels we're all trash.

Her sobbing is shaking the bed so badly that in his delicate postop state he feels queasy.

To quiet her big body he reaches out and pulls her toward him.

As if expecting his touch, she huddles tightly, though a blanket and a sheet are between them, and continues sobbing in a bitter, lower register, her breath hot on his chest, where a pajama button has come undone. His chest. They want to carve it up.

"At least you're healthy," he tells her. "Me, all they need to do is nail down the coffin lid. I can't run, I can't fuck, I can't eat anything I like, I know damn well they're going to talk me into a bypass. You're scared? You're still young. You've got lots of cards still. Think of how scared I feel."

In his arms Pru says in a voice gone calm again, "People have bypass operations all the time."

"Yeah, easy for you to say. Like me telling you people are married to shits all the time. Or you telling me people have their kids turn out to be dope-addict embezzlers all the time."

A small laugh. A flash of light outside and, after some seconds, thunder. Both listen.

She asks, "Does Janice say you can't fuck?"

"We don't talk about it. We just don't do it much lately. There's been too much else going on."

"What did your doctor say?"

"I forget. My cardiologist is about Nelson's age, we were all too shy to go into it."

Pru sniffs and says, "I hate my life."

She seems to him to be unnaturally still, like a deer in oncoming headlights.

He lets the hand of the arm around her broad back move up across the bumps of the quilted robe and enter the silken cave at the nape of her neck, to toy with the warm hair there.

"I know the feeling," aware through the length of his body of a cottony sleepiness waiting to claim.

She tells him, "You were one of the things I liked about Nelson. Maybe I thought Nelson would grow into somebody like you."

"Maybe he did. You don't get to see what a bastard I can be."

"I can imagine," she says. "But people provoke you."

He goes on, "I see a lot of myself in the kid."

The nape of her neck tingles under his fingers, the soft hairs rising to his electricity.

''I'm glad you're letting your hair grow long," he says.

"It gets too long."

Her hand has come to rest on his bare chest, where the button is unbuttoned.

Not waiting too long to think about it, he with his free hand lifts hers from his chest and places it lower, where an erection has surprisingly sprouted from his half-shaved groin.

His gesture has the pre-sexual quality of one child sharing with another an interesting discovery - a stone that moves, or a remarkably thick-bodied butterfly.

The eyes widen in the dim face inches from his on the pillow.

He lets his face drift, on the tide of blood risen within him, across those inches to set their mouths together, carefully testing for the angle, while her fingers caress him in a rhythm slower than that of his thudding heart.

As the space narrows to nothing he is watchful of his heart, his accomplice in sin.

Their kiss tastes to him of the fish she so nicely prepared, its lemon and chives, and of asparagus.

Rain whips at the screen.

The leak onto the windowsill accelerates its tapping.

A brilliant close flash shocks the air everywhere and less than a second later a heart-stopping crack and splintering of thunder crushes the house from above.

As if in overflow of this natural heedlessness, Pru says "Shit," jumps from the bed, slams shut the window, pulls down the shade, tears open her bathrobe and sheds it, and, reaching down, pulls her nightie up over her head.

Her tall pale wide-hipped nakedness in the dimmed room is lovely much as those pear trees in blossom along that block in Brewer last month were lovely, all his it had seemed, a piece of Paradise blundered upon, incredible.


You Aint Seen Nothing Yet

Down by the River

"I know how to inflame a cunt.

I shoot hot bolts into you, Tania.

I make your ovaries incandescent.

Your Sylvester is a little jealous now?

He feels something does he?

He feels the remnants of my big prick.

I have set the shores a little wider.

I have ironed out the wrinkles."

- Henry Valentine Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 1934

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