- STAFF PICKS
- GIFTS + GIFT CARDS
- SELL BOOKS
- FIND A STORE
Ships in 1 to 3 days
Subtle Bodiesby Norman Rush
Synopses & Reviews
In his long-awaited new novel, Norman Rush, author of three immensely praised books set in Africa, including the best-selling classic and National Book Award-winner Mating, returns home, giving us a sophisticated, often comical, romp through the particular joys and tribulations of marriage, and the dilemmas of friendship, as a group of college friends reunites in upstate New York twenty-some years after graduation.
When Douglas, the ringleader of a clique of self-styled wits of “superior sensibility” dies suddenly, his four remaining friends are summoned to his luxe estate high in the Catskills to memorialize his life and mourn his passing. Responding to an obscure sense of emergency in the call, Ned, our hero, flies in from San Francisco (where he is the main organizer of a march against the impending Iraq war), pursued instantly by his furious wife, Nina: they’re at a critical point in their attempt to get Nina pregnant, and she’s ovulating! It is Nina who gives us a pointed, irreverent commentary as the friends begin to catch up with one another. She is not above poking fun at some of their past exploits and the things they held dear, and she’s particularly hard on the departed Douglas, who she thinks undervalued her Ned. Ned is trying manfully to discern what it was that made this clutch of souls his friends to begin with, before time, sex, work, and the brutal quirks of history shaped them into who they are now — and, simultaneously, to guess at what will come next.
Subtle Bodies is filled with unexpected, funny, telling aperçus, alongside a deeper, moving exploration of the meanings of life. A novel of humor, small pleasures, deep emotions. A novel to enjoy and to ponder.
"Norman Rush is famous (and popular with readers who like their novels dense with word play and complication) for very long books set in Africa. Only 256 pages and set mainly in the Catskills, this work is a departure, but it's still recognizably Rushian. Although Nina, one of two point-of-view characters, isn't invited, when her husband, Ned, flies off on hearing of the death of the leader of his middle-aged band of college friends, she hops the next plane — she's ovulating and time is of the essence. Good thing: the Rush responsible for Mating's distinctive female narrator is still a deft hand at creating smart, funny, complicated women. Ned is likable, too, and it's nice to see a happy marriage, a rare beast in fiction about the middle-aged. Unfortunately, the rest of Ned's band of reunited smarty pantses are pills of varying kinds, especially the recently deceased Douglas, whom Nina calls 'the world's champion' of 'walking out on foreign films he personally found highly overrated and taking his pack of stupid fool friends along with him.' As events in Douglas's Catskills castle play out, with the friends coping with their middle-aged selves, the orchestration of Douglas's funeral, and the byzantine rollout of information about Douglas's life, marriage, and finances, even Nina can't save the book from growing talky and claustrophobic. 50,000 first printing. (Sept. 10)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Subtle Bodies seems — to paraphrase Virginia Woolf's description of Middlemarch — like one of the few novels written for grown-up people....Rush's characters (the women more than the men) want to fall in love, to laugh and enjoy themselves. Their quirks, opinions, compulsions, and the cruel or considerate ways in which they treat their rivals and allies are all aspects of the personalities that keep us engrossed — along with the clarity and precision of Rush's sentences, the freshness of his observations, and our awareness that we are reading something quite rare: a remarkably nonjudgmental novel about people who are perpetually and often harshly judging themselves and one another." Francine Prose, The New York Review of Books
"Superbly sustained narrative drollery...Rush is the best kind of comic novelist." Geoff Dyer, The New York Times Book Review
"The real story of Subtle Bodies, the element that finally emerges as its center of gravity, is the subject that Mr. Rush has treated in each of his previous novels: marriage. And here, in Ned and Nina, he has given us a portrait of that notoriously elusive thing, a genuinely happy couple....The book glows with their intimate joy: their private jokes, their sexual teasing, their deep loyalty and mutual concern....Beautifully portrayed." Adam Kirsch, The Wall Street Journal
"A super-up-close study of male friendship (and envy)." New York Magazine
"Norman Rush may be America's last living maximalist author. In two bulky, Africa-set novels, Mating and Mortals, he astutely explored themes of courtship, outsiderdom and herd mentality. Blending romantic lift with the depth of a graduate course in sociology, he's earned every accolade he's received. At barely half the length of his predecessors, his Subtle Bodies isn't a slighter work. But compressed as it is, Rush's storytelling feels more allegorical, its humor more pointed." Mark Athitakis, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"The biggest and most pleasant surprise of Subtle Bodies is how perfectly the tight canvas suits Rush." Daniel Pearce, The Los Angeles Review of Books
"To a straight woman, the phenomenon of inter-male friendship possesses a certain anthropological interest....So imagine this reader's delight upon hearing that it's this very mystery into which Norman Rush delves in Subtle Bodies, and that — hosanna, as one of his characters puts it — he's given us a female perspective, too." Jenny Hendrix, The Los Angeles Review of Books
"Full of the kinds of perception that skew the world around you and force you to see it differently." Baynard Woods, Baltimore Sun
"Rush's protagonists tend to speak to each other at length, and with formidable intelligence and eloquence, but it's their linguistic inventiveness that is key to Rush's remarkably convincing portrayals of enduring romantic love." Rachel Arons, New Yorker.com
"Timely. Beautifully rendered. Just the kind of novel dedicated novel readers are always searching for." Ann LaFarge, Hudson Valley News
"Rarely does one get from a male novelist a female character as lovingly
"The book's appeal lies in its complex characters, its slow-burn tension and its keen observations." Doug Childers, Richmond Post-Dispatch
"Fans of Rush's previous opuses will recognize the witty wordplay and intense, erotic eloquence of the married couple as they muse about their own ethereal — or subtle — selves. But even the uninitiated will appreciate the brilliance of Rush's clear and comedic characterization that causes this meditation on death and masculinity to crackle with energy and mirth." Chris Wallace, Interview Magazine
"Playfully erotic, hopelessly addictive...features a marital reckoning between a wife intent on getting pregnant and a husband who can't decide if he's ambivalent." Vogue
"Rush dwells much on the futility of warring against our natures, yet this book abounds in wit, particularly in its exploration of Ned and Nina's marriage....His skill at revealing our interior lives is undiminished [and] his concerns with our carnal and intellectual lives remain pleasurably, provocatively intact." Kirkus, Starred Review
"The verbal play and digressions one might expect from Rush, author of the major works Mating and Mortals, but briefer and more accessible. Readers will be immediately drawn into the acutely rendered world swirling around Ned and Nina." James Coan, Library Journal
About the Author
Norman Rush is the author of three previous works of fiction: Whites, a collection of stories, and two novels, Mating and Mortals. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Best American Short Stories. Mating was the recipient of the National Book Award. Rush and his wife live in Rockland County, New York.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Other books you might like