Review

Licks of Love: Short Stories and a Sequel, Rabbit Remembered

by John Updike

John
Updike is one of the handful of American writers who is recognized
by almost anyone beyond the most casual reader. As a writer he is
equally adept at literary criticism, poetry, and subjects ranging
from adultery to golf. Perhaps his best known work is the
multi-volume chronicle of the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. In
four separate novels Updike covers the life of Angstrom from his
youth as a star basketball player to his adult life during the
social and sexual revolutions of the 1960s to his middle age
financial success to retirement and finally death. Throughout
Updike's works, one finds the gentle observations of American life
and customs. He constantly asks the reader to reconsider common
preconceptions of contemporary society. To read John Updike is to
confront the countless issues that are often discussed around
coffee and lunch tables as well as Internet chat rooms in every
town and community in America.
LICKS OF LOVE is Updike's latest effort to discuss his favorite
themes. It is a collection of 12 short stories and a novella that
once again brings back the memory of "Rabbit" Angstrom. The short
stories revisit many favorite Updike locales and situations. "The
Women Who Got Away," "New York Girl," and "Licks of Love in the
Heat of the Cold War" all find characters involved in adulterous
affairs. Favorite Updike issues of marriage and betrayal, love,
sex, and guilt all appear. In many instances the characters, like
the author, are older and reflective of past life and long ago
experiences.
Other stories take place in small Pennsylvania communities, the
towns of Updike's youth. In "Lunch Hour" we read of a high school
reunion that triggers memories of a man and his attempts to enter
the world of the cool crowd at his school. In many respects this
story represents one of Updike's strengths. He writes in a way that
causes the reader to identify and recall incidents from their own
life. This ability to strike personal chords is one of the talents
that make Updike a joy to read.
"Rabbit Remembered" is the major reason for reading this
collection. For many who mourned the passing of Harry Angstrom in
both a literary and personal sense, it is another opportunity to
visit with the Angstrom clan and to recall again episodes from
Harry's life. We meet characters seeking to come to terms with the
death of a husband, father, and friend, while at the same time
confronting the remainder of their lives.
Harry's wife Janice has remarried Ronnie Harrison, who was
married to Harry's lover Thelma. Harry's son Nelson, now 42, is
divorced and living with his mother. A recovered cocaine addict,
Nelson now works as a counselor at a clinic for patients with
emotional problems. Prudence, Nelson's former wife, has moved to
Akron, Ohio along with their two children. From his infrequent
contacts with his 14-year-old son Roy, one finds a relationship
almost identical to the relationship between Harry and Nelson, with
elements of love, ineptness, and guilt all present.
Into
this mix arrives Annabelle, the daughter of a woman named Ruth and
the product of the affair between her mother and Harry. Janice
views the woman, now 40, as another in a line of events where Harry
continues to disrupt her life. She will have nothing to do with
Annabelle, but Nelson has the opposite attitude. He opens up to
Annabelle and shares memories of Harry's life with her, and the
stories he shares with his half-sister encompass both the good and
the bad, the bitter and the sweet. It is an opportunity for Nelson
to make peace with his father in a way that will help him free
himself from his past life as well. As the reader recalls the life
of Harry Angstrom, the memories that are rekindled serve as a
reminder of why the saga of "Rabbit" occupies a significant role in
20th century American literature.

There is a certain sadness to reading LICKS OF LOVE. As one
encounters aging characters, many of whom must confront their own
mortality, one realizes that writers with the talent of John Updike
cannot write forever. This is certainly our last episode with
"Rabbit" Angstrom, and we will miss him dearly. If only for "Rabbit
Remembered," this is a book to be read and savored and
cherished.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 22, 2011

Licks of Love: Short Stories and a Sequel, Rabbit Remembered
by John Updike

  • Publication Date: November 27, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345442016
  • ISBN-13: 9780345442017