10 Years, One Book: Norman Rush Brews A Literary Distillation

Play associated audio

On the surface, Norman Rush's new novel is about a middle-aged man, Ned, who reunites with a group of college friends after one member of the group dies unexpectedly. But what transpires over the next few days ahead of the memorial service is less about Ned's relationship with these men and the heady, self-absorbed days of yore, and more about how Ned sees himself.

In his third, much anticipated novel, Subtle Bodies, Rush takes the reader inside the most intimate parts of relationships — between Ned and his wife, between Ned and his deceased friend and between Ned and his own expectations.

Rush tells NPR's Rachel Martin about the process of writing his new book and the topics he wanted to explore.


Interview Highlights

On why it took him almost a decade to write Subtle Bodies

"The explanation is actually pretty simple: The book kept escaping from my control. I am afflicted with the, I guess you'd call it compulsion to say everything. And this was going — without the assistance of somebody — was going to turn into a War and Peace about the 'after left', as I call it, the period after the collapse of the socialist project and the beginnings of where we are now.

"... It's exquisitely interesting, but ... I had made a promise to my wife to do something unheard of for me, which was to write a concentrated piece of writing, a distillation, and not consume these years in a herculean struggle. But it didn't work out that way, the book got over 400 pages twice and it brought me to my knees one evening. And I sought her forgiveness first, and then her help and we together reduced it to its essentials."

On exploring the topic of friendship

"I wanted to write about friendship and I discovered when I started reading around in the subject that there is not actually a lot of first-rate serious literary fiction that concerns male friendship. To me, it seemed like a rare subject. I had things to say about that that hadn't gotten into the previous books, and I wanted to contrast the kinds of friendship that exists within a marriage and what masculine friendship is. I wanted to look at it in a deep way."

On the character of Douglas, whose unexpected death brings the friends together

"Douglas is one of these characters who turns up who has what you might call limited charisma, or charisma limited to a particular circle of people, but with ambitions for it to be broader. ... Ned and the others too in each of their own ways were susceptible to the antic opposition persona presented.

"... [They'd] fallen under a spell and gotten with a kind of unstated program, an oppositional program, opposition to the culture."

On Ned's wife, Nina, who is trying to get Ned to have a baby with her

"The problem for Nina with Ned is that he's been brought along to the point of being willing to do it. But she wants him to want to do it and that means embracing the possibility of the child living in a decent world, a happier world, a better world, a world that would be [nurturing] and decent.

" ... He's struggling with the feeling."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Remembering Robert Swanson, Advertising's 'King Of Jingles'

Robert Swanson revolutionized American advertising and wrote some of the most memorable ad jingles of the 1950s and '60s for products ranging from Campbell's Soup to Pall Mall cigarettes. He died at 95 July 17 at his home in Phoenix, Ariz.
NPR

In Alaska's Remote Towns, Climate Change Is Already Leaving Many Hungry

Melting ice has made it harder to hunt walrus, a traditional staple for Native Alaskans. Warmer temps mean caribou aren't where hunters used to find them. It all adds up to more food insecurity.
WAMU 88.5

Democratic National Convention Day Two: Uniting The Party

An update on day two of the Democratic convention: Bill Clinton takes the stage and ongoing efforts by party leaders to build unity.

WAMU 88.5

How To Help Teens And Children Fight 'Tech Addiction'

Many parents and therapists say obsessive internet use is a very real problem for some teens and children. But the term “internet addiction” is controversial and not officially recognized as a disorder. How to help kids who compulsively use computers and mobile technology.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.