Old Friends, New Truths

Published September 6, 2013

“Genitals have their own lives.” So begins Norman Rush’s Subtle Bodies, the third and comparatively slim novel from the 79-year-old National Book Award winner, and the first to take place outside of the African nation of Botswana, where Rush and his wife Elsa were members of the Peace Corps in the early 1980s. Weeks before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Ned, a kind of community activist, is pulled from his duties in Oakland to the Catskills for the wake of an estranged college buddy. Hot on his heels comes Ned’s wife Nina, who is insistent they keep to their timetable to get pregnant and questions Ned’s allegiance to his old schoolmates. Fans of Rush’s previous opuses Mortals (2003) and Mating (1991), and his acclaimed story collection Whites (1986) 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.