Love's Labor's Found
A new novel considers male friendship and romantic love
by Norman Rush
$26.95 List Price
Bad enough that a new Norman Rush book appears but once a decade; to be a big tease about it seems cruel. As far back as 2005, Rush was describing his new novel, Subtle Bodies, as a “screwball tragedy,” a book concerned with “friendship, male friendship in particular.” The tease was on, and over the next seven years assumed tantric proportions: It would be Rush’s first book set in the United States and not Africa, and much shorter than his previous novels—the five-hundred-page Mating (1991), and the seven-hundred-page Mortals (2003)—with the action taking place on the eve of the 2003 Iraq invasion. In 2008 the author, perhaps already primed for the sales meeting, broke it down this way: “Mating is about courtship; Mortals is about marriage; Subtle Bodies is about friendship.”
And yes: male friendship in particular. Centered on a fraternal reunion, Subtle Bodies, at a girlish 233 pages, appears in size and scope to deliver on its author’s promises. Rush has proved himself a writer of grand and self-conscious ambition, possessed by a keen sense of the thing called greatness. He has also been a writer of powerful—sometimes overwhelming—sensibility. In Mating, about an American woman in southern Africa who is drawn to the leader of a utopian experiment, sense and sensibility pair perfectly: Rush has said that he set out “to create the most fully realized female character in the English language.” Many agree he did nothing less.
Subtle Bodies prompted new challenges: To attempt a short novel, Rush has suggested, goes against his very nature; the apparent dearth of fiction