cover image Subtle Bodies

Subtle Bodies

Norman Rush. Knopf, $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-400-04250-0

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)