John Updike gets a lot of shit. Some of that is very deserved. His preoccupation with white male middle-class identity rubs many people the wrong way. The perspective in much of his fiction is inescapably male, and with an inescapable male view of women. This has led to a bit of a backlash against the man in feminist circles. Updike is also an incredibly conventional straight, white, Anglo-Saxon protestant. It’s not very hip to be that square.
But the guy can write. While it’s certainly possible to make some well-substantiated claims of anti-feminism against the guy, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that most of the hate is rather blind. There’s no lack of compelling and nuanced female characters in this book, (the second one in his “Rabbit” quadrilogy) and any complaints about Updike’s women being flawed and unlikable seems to gloss over the point that everyone in these books is pretty flawed and unlikable. Rabbit himself is sexually repressed, vulgar, and uneducated. He’s a racist and a misogynist who isn’t really any good at anything, and he’s a chronic user of people. Updike’s book is -if anything- a brutal critique of American masculinity. The unfavorable perspectives on femininity are (unfortunate) collateral damage.
And despite whatever criticism you may have of the subject matter… the guy can write. All four novels are in the present tense, full of powerful and immediate prose. I can’t imagine being interested in reading a suburban drama about the lives of small-town white people in 1969 America, but Updike makes these unlikable and unremarkable people so incredibly compelling and full of importance. The emotional resonance and the compelling nature of the reading experience are all borne out of his prose itself, not the events taking place within it.
Recommendation: Read it. This shit is literary canon and literary gold. One of the best books of 2015 for me.