The great Norman Rush is making an altogther too rare appearance in the L.A. area, where he will be in conversation with Mona Simpson at the Hammer on Tuesday evening. It's the first time that I am cursing the fact that I teach that evening, and I'm tempted to shuttle my Novel III students over to the event.
For those of you who don't know Rush's work, you can read what James Wood has to say about the superb novel Mortals here. To wit:
In the way of all powerfully narrated first-person monologues, Mating occasionally breeds in the reader the desire to escape the constant intensity and interest of the language, as houseguests sometimes want to escape their over-vivid hosts. It is the price that the writer pays for the immediacy of first-person access. Mortals is told in the conventional third person, so that it distributes its effects more spaciously and calmly, as is proper for such a massive work. But Rush has not lost his interest in spoken language; indeed, he has intensified his study, at once funny and brilliant, of what happens to language when brainy Americans get mixed up with it. Mortals is many things, and does many things beautifully, but its central achievement has to be the fidelity with which it represents consciousness, the way in which it tracks the mind's own language. This concern with the insides of our minds makes Rush almost an original in contemporary American writing.
You can also read Rush's Paris Review interview here, in which he says:
It’s a rare reader who doesn’t go to the novel looking for a kind of encouragement to live. No doubt this is because the novel is the rude pretender who stepped into the place of that long-reigning narrative, the religious bedtime story, which, before Darwin and Lyell and those guys, was the only narrative in town. As I write a novel, I’m aware that I’m struggling against the “obligation” to solace. But I want my books to reach only the conclusions that are implicit in the trajectories of their characters. As it happens, bothMating and Mortals have sad outcomes—but optimistic codas. So sue me.
A related question is, when should novels end? I must love big novels, because that’s what I’ve written. It takes a while before you begin to breathe the air the characters breathe. I also like long exchanges, because plots so often turn on nuances in the ways characters understand each other. In moments of madness, I’ve had the fantasy of simultaneously publishing my novels in two versions, Regular and Jumbo. In the book I’m working on now, though, I’m trying to keep everything shorter: shorter scenes, fewer plots, general brevity. But a shorter novel goes against some of my deepest instincts. Dostoyevsky died still intending to write another volume of The Brothers Karamazov. It’s like a knife in my heart that he didn’t.
Go. Drink it all in. Send me dispatches. The details are all here.
UPDATE: Well, it all works out in the end - I will, in fact, be taking my students tonight. And the Los Angeles Review of Books posted this fine appreciation yesterday.