sport as literature


There was an implicit understanding in these books that most of us live, as Ford puts it in his 1986 novel The Sportswriter, “applauseless” lives, none more so than Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, the everyman “hero” of Updike’s great tetralogy, written between 1960 and 1990, that comprises Rabbit Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; and Rabbit At Rest. Rabbit is a sportsman of sorts – he was once a “first-rate” basketball player. But as a mature adult, he is restlessly second-rate. We first encounter him as a young man on the basketball court, where he is nimble and commanding. Then, at the end of Rabbit at Rest, we look on as he dies in bloated and complacent late middle-age – on a basketball court, completing the circle of his life. Rabbit’s is an emblematically American death. He has joined in with a group of kids who are playing in a park, and he collapses, “bursts from within”, as he rises to shoot a basket, the ball hitting the ground just after he does. “Harry,” wrote Updike in an introduction to the collected Rabbit novels in 1995, “was for me a way in – a ticket to the America all around me.” The narrator of Ford’s The Sportswriter is, like Rabbit, a would-be man of action and sportsman who has lost his way in life but who never stops believing in the redemptive capacity of sport.

more from Jason Cowley at the FT here.