cover image Mating


Norman Rush, Author, Ann Close, Editor Alfred A Knopf Inc $23 (480p) ISBN 978-0-394-54472-4

Even readers who remember the luminous stories in Rush's debut, Whites , may not be prepared for the cleverness, humor, insight into human nature and intellectual acuity demonstrated in this accomplished novel. Even more remarkable is his facility in conveying the voice and sensibility of his amusingly self-absorbed narrator, a feminist anthropologist whose pursuit of a famous social scientist is a timely riff on a perennial theme, What do women want? At an impasse with her doctoral thesis and judging herself ready to find a mate, the narrator sets off alone across the Kalahari Desert from Gaborone, Botswana, to locate Nelson Denoon and the secret, experimental community he has created to give sanctuary and self-esteem to destitute or abused African women. Having barely survived her foolhardy trek, she finds Denoon ready to welcome her as a lover. In a wonderfully idiosyncratic voice, she chronicles the progress of their affair in what amounts to a parody of an academic study, rendered in a comical amalgam of Latin and French phrases, Briticismsstet/rl , scientific jargon, American vernacular, anthropological terms and African words. Because theirs is an intellectual as well as a sexual union, the emphasis is on philosophical discussions and informational exchanges, during which the reader learns a great deal about the geography, culture, economy, and social and political background of Botswana. Though the narrative flags at times--there are too few actual events and a bit too much detailed sociology--in the main readers will be captivated by the narrator's quirky, obsessive voice and the situation she describes: a game of amorous relationships complicated by feminist doctrine and an exotic locale. BOMC alternate. (Sept.)