Charles Finch at The Point:
Last year the great American novelist Norman Rush published a new book, Subtle Bodies, his fourth. Unlike the first three—Whites, Mating and Mortals—it is not set in Botswana, where Rush and his wife Elsa were Peace Corps co-directors from 1978 to 1983, and perhaps that missing edge of novelty is one reason why there’s been a tone of civil disappointment in the critical response. Nevertheless all four books are of a piece, sharing a pair of central concerns: geopolitics, specifically with regard to issues of structural injustice, and the nature of a long and extremely intimate marriage.
On those first and third levels of the art of the novel, Rush is only an equivocal and intermittent master. Passages of his books, particularly Mortals, are beautifully plotted, but none of them could be called compulsive from first to last solely by virtue of their story. As for his vision of the world, fascinating though it is, it has limitations of perspective that the best and most dispassionate novelists (even seemingly inward ones, such as Kafka) have been able to transcend. To be specific: few of the humans who populate Rush’s books ever seem quite as real as the husband and wife who recur again and again as central characters, bandits traveling under different names each time, and who form the twinned consciousness of his art.
But the second, intermediate level of novelistic greatness has to do with neither technical nor visionary genius.