This third novel of Updike's Rabbit series examines the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a one-time high school basketball star, who has reached a paunchy middle-age without relocating from Brewer, Pennsylvania, the poor, fictional city of his birth. Harry and Janice, his wife of twenty-two years, live comfortably, having inherited her late father's Toyota dealership. He is indeed rich, but Harry's persistent problems— his wife's drinking, his troubled son's schemes, his libido, and spectres from his past — complicate life. Having achieved a lifestyle that would have embarrassed his working-class parents, Harry is not greedy, but neither is he ever quite satisfied. Harry has become somewhat enamored of a country-club friend's young wife. He also has to deal with the indecision and irresponsibility of Nelson, his son, who is a student at Kent State University. Throughout the book, Harry wonders about his former lover Ruth, and whether she had ever given birth to their daughter.
In the first edition of the novel, Updike repeatedly refers to a convertible Ford Maverick driven by Rabbit's wife, Janice, and later damaged by Rabbit's son, Nelson– an automobile which was never actually manufactured by Ford Motor Company. The car is a minor plot point when Nelson decides to purchase two convertible cars in one of his first efforts at his father's dealership, and foreshadows the events of the subsequent Rabbit novel, Rabbit at Rest , in which Nelson has been given control of the dealership by his father.
Later printings change the Ford Maverick to a more accurate Ford Mustang, which was popular in the convertible body. In a speech Updike delivered on April 27, 1982 at Carnegie Hall, Updike mentioned this error and its correction, reflects on personally driving a convertible Ford Mustang, and notes a few other, more minor anachronisms in the novel.