Norman Rush has suddenly become one of America’s must-read novelists. He crept up on us, because his two previous novels, Mating and Mortals, were such enormous books that you could easily tell yourself that you’d read them next year. (Mr. Rush debuted in 1986, at the age of 53, with a collection of short stories, Whites, which was critically acclaimed but as under-read as most other debut collections of short stories.) Now Subtle Bodies has arrived, at just 256 dense, colloquial, inviting pages, and you’re out of excuses. This is cause for celebration. Mr. Rush is our … I’ve been searching for a suitable comparison, but he really is sui generis. The first two novels are reminiscent of War and Peace because of their length, intelligence and realism, but Mr. Rush is a more psychological and playful writer than Tolstoy. One could imagine Flaubert as a contemporary (and obviously happy) American and maybe come up with a writer like Norman Rush. I also keep thinking of Evelyn Waugh, perhaps because of the doubtless deliberate resonance between the two titles (Mr. Rush’s Subtle Bodies echoing Waugh’s Vile Bodies). In both Waugh and Mr. Rush, we are always in the middle of the action, and, like Waugh, Mr. Rush presumes a slow, careful reader. We have to figure out the subtleties on our own.
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