Author: John Updike
Release Date: 2000
Return to the world of Brewer, Pennsylvania to check in on the Angstrom clan in this nostalgia trip by John Updike. Set ten years after the excellent “Rabbit at Rest,” this book brings back the supporting cast from the previous four books by focusing on Nelson and Janice as they become aware of Harry’s illegitimate daughter Annabelle. Along the way we get updates on Nelson’s wife Pru, two children Roy and Judy and even minor characters like childhood friend Billy and Rabbit’s rival Ronnie Harrison.
I imagine reading these books when they came out was an amazing experience as each book brings back characters years apart and shines a light on their lives. This book felt the tidiest in the entire series which made it more enjoyable than “Rabbit, Redux” (which was a mess in the sense that it was all over the place) but less entertaining that “Rabbit at Rest” (which felt more free to tell its own story rather than be tied to nostalgia).
The real joy in reading this book was the nostalgia from my own life as the events in this book finally got to events that I grew up being aware of. Updike has always spent a lot of time visiting the headlines of the year in the the Rabbit book takes place. This has served well to both set the setting for the book on a macro level as well as provide political views of the characters in reaction. However most of these books were written before I was alive or cognizant of those same headlines. “Rabbit Remembered” spends time on the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, Y2K and best picture nominee “American Beauty.” The result for me was a stroll down memory lane both with characters I’ve spent four books with as well as with the headlines of my own youth.
As a series the Rabbit books are fairly uneven, but the positives definitely outweighed the negatives for me. I consider book four to be the conclusion of the series, and while this novella did not detract from that ending in any way it also felt very anticlimactic in wrapping up the story of Nelson and crew in comparison. The biggest strength was in characters like Nelson and Ronnie, who originally did not appreciate Harry, finding reason to remember him and even stick up for him at times. Saying goodbye to Rabbit and the folks in Brewer was sad enough in book four; “Rabbit Remembered” is a good reminder that a trip down memory lane is worthwhile if there was enjoyment on that path in the first place.