|American novelist, Norman Rush, b. 1933|
|Botswanan novelist, Bessie Head, 1937 - 1986|
My first acquaintance with Norman Rush was as a casual browser. I'd seen his books on shelves in the public library and in bookstores. I would note that their covers were composed around details from Hieronymus Bosch's painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights. Then I moved on to other choices. I don't know why. Perhaps it just wasn't my time to be initiated into Rush's literary delights.
Later, still not having approached the work, I read the interview he did with Paris Review. His unusual background and intellectual awareness, his artful conversation and worldly concerns so intrigued me I was finally sold. I found MATING (480 pages), his first novel, published in 1990, at my favorite public library branch and committed myself to it. MATING, makes the rest of American fiction look anemic. As New York Times critic John Leonard described it, MATING is: "A parable of sex and utopia, an allegory of Mother Africa, a romance of political economy and a rewrite of Botswana's social text in discursive feminism." And Rush himself stated in an interview with National Book Critics Circle Board member, Scott Esposito that "I wrote frankly about what I saw in the various exotic cultures that I encountered in Africa: Tswana, U.S. Embassy, development professionals, development volunteers from everywhere, old-line Brit civil servants who’d been kicked down the African continent as British rule faded away and ended up in Botswana."
Just as I was about to finish reading MATING (my appetite as an Obsessive Reader having been aroused, not sated by reading Rush's first book), I lucked on a rare remaindered copy of MORTALS (715 pages), published in 2003, in a Barnes and Noble. I had stopped to browse the discount tables on my way out of the mall, and there, as if fated, the next book I was so eager to read. James Wood of the New Republic is a champion of Rush's fiction and wrote the best review of MORTALS I've come across. Wood compares Rush to Joseph Conrad and extols his prose. "One reason that Rush has so excited literary readers — and excited them on the strength, until now, of only one novel — has to do with his extraordinary prose...He is very interested in speech, in the slightly barbaric twisting of language that we commit when we speak, or speak to ourselves."
Now there is the exciting news, for us fans of Norman Rush, that a new novel - might be!! - expected this year. The literary blogosphere has sprouted with rumors and anticipation. Last year John Woods told The Millions “I think [Rush's] next book — his first to be set in America — will be unlike anything he has written before.” Esposito's blog reprinted this excerpt from a 2008 interview with Rush. "It sort of goes like this: Mating is about courtship; Mortals is about marriage; Subtle Bodies [Rush's upcoming book] is about friendship. Subtle Bodies is set in the Catskills on the eve of the invasion of Iraq." A comment at The Millions from someone who attended a reading by Rush from SUBTLE BODIES at the 92nd Street Y in 2007, pronounced that "there was indeed something different about this new work–something fresher, more poignant, more human (if that is in fact possible, given the great humanity of Rush’s previous novels). " I can hardly wait to read it. In the meantime, as a truly Obsessive Reader, I will be checking out the stories in WHITES.