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Subtle Bodies Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 10, 2013
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Ned and Nina are working hard to get pregnant. But when Ned suddenly flies across the country to attend the funeral of college friend Douglas, Nina follows in hot pursuit. When she finally catches up with him, Nina finds her husband holed up in Douglas’ upstate New York compound, surrounded by his former NYU roommates, instantly immersed in the rivalries and politics of their student days. Nina’s role as an outsider gives her a unique perspective on the group as she watches them grapple with the death of their revered Douglas and attempt to reappraise their lives, relationships, and futures through the clarifying lens of the passage of time. Rush, author of the National Book Award–winning Mating (1991), has written a quiet, contemplative novel, bringing together a group of people whose pasts and presents have suddenly come face-to-face as they struggle to make sense of their personal histories. Subtle Bodies is a funny, deeply satisfying look at friendships—why we make them, why we keep them, and how they change us over time. --Carol Gladstein
Though Subtle Bodies tunnels in various directions, including toward a meditation on the enigma of male friendship, here again the marital banner flies strong from the novel’s first pages, its first syllables. In Subtle Bodies, as in so much of his work, confronting the world returns Rush to his central question: What matters, in the end? That we do what we can, is the author’s refrain. Even if all we can do— all any two people can do—is form a country of our own, whose flag is love. —Michelle Orange
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Almost all of the book takes place at this estate populated by the group of friends, the widow, her troubled son & various other notables and press (only vaguely described/mentioned). The deceased enthralled the group with what they saw as his originality, but slowly the story reveals that his apparently successful life was not so great.
A reflection on how we mythologize the "heroes" of our youth ... How time and maturity impacts your perspectives and viewpoints ... How what seemed special in our youth loses its appeal compared to what is truly important - children, marriage, friendship, fighting for a cause you believe in.
It took me some time to get into it but eventually the story, Ned & Nina captivated me and kept me reading. It ends on an uplifting note that is somewhat tragic to the reader who knows the "future".
"Subtle Bodies" departs from the earlier novels by being set in the US, but Rush's characteristic writing style and literary sensitivity are still very much in evidence. Much less dense than either of its predecessors, the book may also seem slight by comparison. It is lighter, much shorter, more of a novella than a full length novel, and more obviously laced with humor than even "Mating." As in "Mating," Rush again succeeds in fashioning a fully 3-dimensional portrait of a post-feminist female protagonist who is both highly intelligent and sexually charged. (She is a handful, but, IMHO, the male protagonist is still a very lucky guy!)
The book has its flaws, of course, in too many places, Rush delivers non sequiturs like the following:
"He was succeeding in being confused by his thoughts and feeling strongly about them at the same time."
a sentence that this Reader, at least, lingers over in vain to try to pin any concrete meaning or significance to. Oh, well. My advice is to ignore these flights of excessive irony and keep plugging away it...
The book also has many redeeming strengths, some of which are - befitting the title - subtle. The narrative arc of "Subtle Bodies" is also subtle. It is not a voyage of discovery in the conventional sense, but it is about a very accomplished middle aged man and his re-discovery and re-evaluation of his formative relationship to his old college roommates on the sudden, accidental death of the charismatic (and autocratic) leader of the original group. (And how his charming mate aids and abets that rediscovery.)
It is also quite funny in places, particularly, a scene where the wife of the main character delivers an impromptu lecture on the proper use of toilet facilities when they are shared across genders. She is naturally vexed that one of the boys failed to restore the seat of the toilet bowl to its required, horizontal position, but is also apparently an unwitting witness to bad aim. Whoa, she lets them have it with both barrels.
While not quite the triumph that "Mating" is, "Subtle Bodies" is still worth reading on own its terms. I enjoyed it, and look forward to more stimulating fiction from Mr. Rush in the future.
My favorite parts were the novel's highlighting the interactions of the couple, and touching on the what it was like friends of old to come together at a funeral, and how much their values and tastes had changed, and watching & hearing the couple handled a variety of situations. Several of the characters are nicely distinguished and feel very real, without the author going into lots of external details. This was often done with describing some physical & personal characteristics, and letting the reader "hear" the dialogue. By the end, though, I was glad to finish the book, happy that it was relatively short.