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 20-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.
OK. the protagonists were never the cool kids. but they shape the world successfully. true but not a topic that lifts me from my own profane existence.
All in all, this book detailed the minutia of a weekend in which a group of four relatively unlikable men (for reasons still unclear to me upon completion, were best friends in college) gather together for the first time in years to memorialize the (extremely unlikable) leader of their unlikable group.
Why so unlikable? Each character was painted as a weak-willed man... horrible to women, children, friends... save the narrator who was, albeit a proselytizer, good to people... though endlessly whipped by his friends, wife, and the dead man's ex-girlfriend (a recurrent character throughout whose presence I was eagerly anticipating but *spoiler alert* was never introduced). The character who was being memorialized was an intellectual bully of sorts, and Mr. Rush came across as an intellectual bully, himself, by casually alluding to obscure literature in order to prove points, go on chapter-long rants regarding "his characters'" views on personally irrelevant topics such as the political climate of 2003, 1970s cinema, etc., which just left me bored.
The one highlight is the co-narrator, the primary narrator's wife, who is expertly read by Emily Zeller. This character is obviously the brains behind the "brains" and as neurotic as they come, but a refreshing breath of fresh air from the suffocating unlikable-ness of the other characters.
In the end, I completed this book feeling unresolved, unnourished, and unimpressed.
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