Man I feel like hell; well, not hell: hell is a bad hangover on a worse day (What more separation from conscious awareness is there than that?). No, I don’t feel like hell; I feel like shit.

Shit is dreaming of a departed lover. Shit is dreaming of looking into her eyes and telling her how much you love her, feeling it in the dream – as you never allow yourself in waking life – only to wake up in your bed alone with a headcold and a fever.

That’s shit.

But not all is forlorn: for despite my waking, and sleeping, circumstances, I took charge of the day; I seized it from the jaws of fate – jaws intent on chewing me up and spitting me out, but not today; for I know that the good outweighs the bad, even on my worst day.

(Thank you Mr. West.)

I think I was empowered largely because I read a damn good novel last night, John Updike’s Rabbit Run.

I always fear discussing authors for worry that critics will have easy targets on me when my works are published, but in actuality a good critic will be able to discern my literary DNA regardless, and a bad critic will try and dispel me as a poor imitation of someone better anyway.

Insecurities and plans of grandeur aside, Rabbit Run is a hell of a novel. The protagonist, while loathed by many readers (see Goodreads or Amazon reviews), is not a cypher; I understand him: he is every young man: imperfect, yet developing into something whole because of it. Now, whether Rabbit actually does [become whole again] will have to be discovered in the next book within the quartet, which I believe is, Rabbit at Rest.

Another reason I liked the book (beyond great character development and story arc) is the fact that Updike manages to write the story in beautiful prose unspoiled by Updike’s realist world view. This is no doubt due largely to Updike’s own philosophy, which, while tucked sparsely into the story’s dialogue, is enough to let the reader make his or her own value judgments.

A shining example occurs on page 140:

“No,” Eccles cries in the same strained voice in which he told his wife to keep her heart open for Grace. “Christianity isn’t looking for a rainbow. If it were what you think it is we’d pass out opium at services. We’re trying to serve God, not be God.”

And, further down the page:

“The truth is,” Eccles tells him in a womanish excitement, in a voice embarrassed but determined, “you’re monstrously selfish. You’re a coward. You don’t care about right or wrong; you worship nothing but your own worst instincts.”

Maybe that’s why I understand Rabbit. Maybe because for a long time I too, like Rabbit, was monstrously selfish.

But I can’t help but believe what Rabbit still seemed to believe at the story’s conclusion, that, “the world can’t touch you once you follow your own instincts.”

Because, as Rabbit said, “If you have the guts to be yourself, other people’ll pay your price.”

This gives me hope Rabbit can make it, but it also gives me something larger; it gives me the hope I need to make it. This sense of hope, I believe – as influenced by the literary philosophies of John Gardner and Ayn Rand – is the life affirming stuff that distinguishes good fiction, such as Dostoyevsky’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, from damn good fiction, which I find Updike’s Rabbit Run to be.

p.s. Remember, damn good, is much better than good, but it’s still short of the best, which, as a reader and a writer, I always hope is still to come.

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