Some of my work on Updike was discussed on The Dish with Andrew Sullivan.
Some of my work on Ross Macdonald was discussed on Pretty Sinister Books.
Here is my interview with superstar music impresario Wendy Starland.
Here is my interview with Pulitzer Prize nominee Olympia Vernon.
Here is my interview with the editor of Best American Short Stories, Heidi Pitlor.
Here is my interview with acclaimed artist Emil Kazaz.
My musing on John D. Macdonald, Travis McGee, and the chicks was picked up on The Rap Sheet.

SIGNS AND SIGNAGE IN UPDIKE'S 'RABBIT' SERIES (3)



SIGNS AND SIGNAGE IN UPDIKE’S ‘RABBIT’ SERIES (3)

Corrections to earlier blogs on this topic: I originally said the name “Jan” on Janice’s uniform at Kroll’s was the only sign(age) in the series that appeared in multiple novels.  This is incorrect.  JIMBO’S Friendly LOUNGE also does.  Also, I originally stated that there are twenty three examples of signs in Rabbit is Rich; there are at least twenty five. 



            Whereas in the first two novels in the series the appearance of signs falls into identifiable patterns, in Rabbit is Rich they do not.  As an example we might look at the phenomenon of the imaginary headline, which occurs six times in Rabbit Redux but only once in Rabbit is Rich; and whereas, in the earlier novel, the imagined headlines are of a supermarket scandal sheet variety, here the lone one in the book is not : CHAMPAGNE PROVIDED AT SHOTGUN WEDDING.  Angstrom Foots Bill.  (I’m using the 17th edition of the Fawcett Crest paperback – this quote is on p, 231.)  Yet I believe that my thesis, which is that Angstrom’s sensitivity to signs and signage was awakened by his working as a linotyper for ten years in the time elapsed between the first two novels, is still valid.  The fact that Angstrom’s attention is alerted to signs and signage all around him is, by the third novel, a given – the question now is, what is Updike’s intention – beyond the purely realistic function of describing the environment – in introducing each sign that turns up on these pages?  And for this it’s helpful to isolate each sign as it appears and then render an interpretive reading of it based on the one or two pages both before and after its appearance.  There are at least twenty five appearances of signs in Rabbit is Rich; I will pick three at random and take a look at them in the manner I just suggested. 
1.      The circumstances that produce the first sign, on p. 2 – a twenty year old newspaper clipping from Angstrom’s days as a high school basketball star reading ANGSTROM HITS FOR 42, “Rabbit” Leads Mt. Judge Into Semi-Finals – emanate from Fred Springer, Angstrom’s dead father-in-law who left him half the car dealership upon his death.  The framed clippings adorn his office – hanging them there as social proof of Angstrom’s character  and lifelong community ties were, we’re told, Springer’s idea.  We’re told further that Angstrom’s own parents had kept these clippings in the attic, in scrapbooks, and thusly the difference between the in-laws and the parents is illustrated as plainly as day – in their relationship to the clippings.  To Angstrom’s own parents the clippings are little more than cheap heirlooms, nostalgic mementoes, but to Springer they function as powerful tools for business, as rapport building artifacts, as conversation pieces.  Updike is using these clippings, this set of signs, as a means of highlighting some of the differences between the Springers and the Angstroms. 


2.      Movie marquees appear three times in this novel – on pages 31, 150, and 324. 
In each case the films being shown at the cineplex are detailed:
            ALIEN MOONRAKER MAIN EVENT ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ
(p. 31) Immediately following the list of films comes a rumination of Angstrom’s about Barbara Streisand and Jewishness or, to be more precise, Angstrom’s appraisal of what he himself knows about Jews firsthand, which is apparently very little. 
            AGATHA MANHATTAN MEATBALLS AMITYVILLE HORROR (p. 150)
When the theater is showing this set of pictures Angstrom happens to be driving by with Nelson, who launches into a preposterous non sequitir comparing the events of the Amity Horror with communicants in church  It causes Angstrom to think of people Nelson’s age as a “spineless generation”  who “think life’s one big TV”. 
            BREAKING AWAY STARTING OVER RUNNING  “10” (p. 324)
Here, Angstrom is driving by the cinema with Nelson and Ma Springer, and reading the films offered this time leads into one of the most important passages in the whole novel:
                        He’d like to see “10,” he knows from the ads this Swedish-looking
                        girl has her hair in corn rows like a black chick out of Zaire.  One world:
                        everybody fucks everybody.
There follows a lament that he will never make love to anybody ever again in his life other than Janice.

            And so we see that in each of these three cases the messages on the movie marquee serve as catalysts that provoke Angstrom to review his own thoughts about something in the world around him.  In a preview of the strategy he will develop more fully in IN THE BEAUTY OF THE LILLIES, Updike is here using the movie marquee to suggest that various films hold connotations for Angstrom about important facts and/or states of affairs in the world around him. 
            3. Updike references Skeeter, from Rabbit Redux, through signs two times in the novel – once very early in the action in the form of newspaper clippings someone anonymously sends Angstrom about Skeeter’s violent death in a shootout with Philadelphia cops and a second time, towards the end of the narrative, via a reference to one of the few signs that occurs in multiple works of the tetralogy, JIMBO’S Friendly LOUNGE.  This strategy is interesting for all kinds of reasons, among them being the fact that the articles about the death are set in Linotype – Updike makes it a point to stress this – and also, of course, the fact that Jimbo’s is where Angstrom initially met Jill and Skeeter.  The point may be the way that signs and signage seem to have the power to conjure up vivid memories – I’m not as certain of this as I would like to be.


What I am fairly certain of, though, is that use of signs and signage will take on still more twists and turns in Rabbit at Rest.


No comments:

Post a Comment