Wednesday 10 February 2010

Toyota, Updike, Forgetting

The beleaguered Japanese car makers Toyota are recalling cars left, right and centre, and facing reputational meltdown. How very different it all looked back in 1979:

'Running out of gas, Rabbit Angstrom thinks as he stands behind the summer-dusty windows of the Spring Motors display room watching the traffic go by on Route 111, traffic somehow thin and scared compared to what it used to be. The fucking world is running out of gas. But they won’t catch him, not yet, because there isn’t a piece of junk on the road gets better mileage than his Toyotas, with lower service costs … That’s all he has to tell people when they come in. And come in they do, the people out there are getting frantic, they know the great American ride is ending … He tells them, whey they buy a Toyota, they’re turning their dollars into yen. And they believe him. A hundred units new and used moved in the first five months of 1979, with eight Corollas, five Coronas including a Luxury Edition Wagon, and that Celica that Charlie said looked like a Pimpmobile unloaded in these first three weeks of June already, at an average markup of eight hundred dollars per sale. Rabbit is Rich.'

That, of course, is the opening of John Updike's Rabbit Is Rich, which I found the most satisfactory of the tetralogy when I read it, though I haven't revisited it in years. It finds Rabbit prospering, having inherited the co-ownership of a Toyota dealership from his late father-in-law. There is, of course, trouble on the way, in the form of Rabbit's returning son and a ghost from his amatory past... Beyond that my memory is vague and fragmentary, as with almost everything I read (in accordance with Montaignean wisdom) - though I have a good deal more of Updike in my head than Nicholson Baker did when he wrote U And I (first sentence: 'On August 6, 1989, a Sunday, I lay back as usual with my feet up in a reclining aluminum deck chair padded with blood-dotted pillows in my father-in-law's study in Berkeley (we were house-sitting) and arranged my keyboard, resting on an abridged dictionary, on my lap.') Baker too made a virtue of forgetting. What else can you do?


  1. Nice twist of the meaning of ‘recall’.

  2. Damn yes, I cld have made something of that!

  3. Roger Boylan comments on this posting saying:

    "Oddly, however, for all his admiration for the marque, Updike himself never owned a Toyota; as I discussed in a short[*] piece on the man and his cars, it was all he could do to overcome an innate Nippophobia and buy anything Japanese. When he finally did, he ended up with Infinitis and Subarus, not Toyotas."

    *"Updike's Miles":

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