November 2000

Reflections on the main men of fiction

By Anne Roiphe
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One ardent Rabbit fan is novelist and critic Anne Roiphe, who offers her own idiosyncratic take on Updike's most famous character and six other male literary figures in For Rabbit, With Love and Squalor: An American Read. Hemingway's Robert Jordan, Philip Roth's Nathan Zuckerman, Fitzgerald's Dick Diver at first glance these might seem unlikely heroes for an avowed feminist writer. But Roiphe is a perceptive reader and an engaging writer, and her sharp observations, juxtaposed against events from her own life and experience (she is roughly the same age as Updike and Roth) illuminate these modern classics in ways that combine the personal and the political. These fictional males, Roiphe explains, "served as my friends, my counterspies in the gender wars, my distraction. Beginning with Holden Caulfield, who spoke first to her own generation and has endured as a coming-of-age symbol for each succeeding one, Roiphe calls upon these "friends to help her sort through some of the big questions of literature and life: love, sex, belief, parenthood, death. How can you not love a book that puts Maurice Sendak's Max (Where the Wild Things Are) among these other literary heavyweights? Robert Weibezahl Excerpt "He's not a swell, no outstanding marks of mind or talent that might lift him out of his place and let him soar limitless in the wide American sky. I understand perfectly well that Rabbit is a stand-in for America's failure of moral courage, paltry attempts at spiritual life, coarse bestial behaviors in roadhouses, motels, gropings in the back of cars. I know that he and his friends are vulgar, uneducated, bigoted provincials. I know that the book is ironic and satiric sometimes. I'm clear that Rabbit is an updated woebegone Babbitt slipping on the banana peels littered across America's Main Street. He has a den and some yellowed newspaper clippings of his high school triumphs and not a lot more to his name. Still. Who could resist loving Rabbit? Not me. . . .

"Rabbit is an example of the twentieth-century contribution to the crawl of humankind toward whatever waits us. Not to love him is not to love ourselves. For Rabbit, With Love and Squalor by Anne Roiphe


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