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Posts Tagged ‘Mating’

5: “If I Overdwell on This It Can’t Be Helped”

April 2, 2015 | by

From “Grace Acts” through “Grace, Again,” pp. 90–116

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This is the fifth entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

“So here he is, after all this setup: Denoon.” That’s how Joshua Cohen began his post last week, and the moment when we finally confront our “genuinely goodlooking man” does feel exactly that dramatic. It’s a strange kind of meet-cute: girl meets boy at furtive political symposium; girl is foisted on boy by boy’s not-quite-ex-wife.

This section takes in two run-ins between our narrator and Denoon: the first inside the guesthouse of the USAID director’s opulent home, the second near the outhouse on the Tutwane family plot in Old Naledi. After this, our narrator shares a meal with Grace, the not-quite-ex, at the humble Carat Restaurant, “which was doomed to fail because they gave you too much food for your money.”

Cohen wrote that last week’s one-act “operat[es] on multiple time lines,” but so does the novel as a whole: our narrator writes from an undefined future, looking back on life pre-Denoon until we “plunge into Denoon and what followed.” As hints accumulate of the disagreements, passions, and disappointments ahead, our expectation grows fevered, even as the details of the meeting itself remain wonderfully unknowable. Even though we’ve been working our way toward this encounter, and even though we know that this is where the story truly begins, the moment still feels wildly significant. The narrator speaks of “a feeling of fatedness”: “The feeling was that this was supposed to happen, according to the stars in their courses.” Read More »

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4: “Here Was the Famous Voice”

March 27, 2015 | by

“A Farce Written in Human Blood,” pp. 70–89

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This is the fourth entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

So here he is, after all this setup: Denoon—the anthropologist beyond anthropology, the man who until this chapter had been kept behind the margins as if in the wings, behind a curtain. Because his entrance here, now, is a stage entrance—he’s going to give us a performance.

Here we have a party whose entertainment consists of an anthropologist’s lecture costumed as an anthropologist’s debate—with politicians, about politics—in the thickly caked makeup of a play: “A Farce Written in Human Blood: THE DESTRUCTION OF AFRICA ACCELERATED BY HER BENEFACTORS, PRESENT COMPANY NOT EXCEPTED.” The caps are Rush’s. Then there’s this heading: Act II. But where was Act I? Did we miss it? We did. Our unnamed narrator gives us access to Denoon only after he’s finished (verbally) demolishing capitalism (rather, “excoriating the capitalist development mode for Africa”)—socialism is next.

But before we get into Denoon’s “objections to the socialist remedy for Africa,” let’s ask a question: Why did Rush write this section as a drama? Why not as a thoroughgoing narrated scene? Read More »

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3: “Blasts and Lurches”

March 26, 2015 | by

From “A Fête Worse than Death” through “A Great Reckoning in a Little Room,” pp. 59–71

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This is the third entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

In their opening salvos to this celebration of/cerebration on Norman Rush’s Mating, it seems only reasonable that my virtual clubmates, Popkey and Piepenbring, have focused on the voice of the novel’s nameless first-person narrator. Without question, she’s a unique creation. Piepenbring calls her, approvingly, “strange,” a strangeness that Popkey would have us appreciate for a believable femaleness. I concede, as Popkey documents, that since Mating received the National Book Award for fiction, in 1991, it has been a point of debate, among critics and readers, to assess the degree of plausibility of the femaleness of Rush’s narrator (a nameless narrator who, in Rush’s third-person second novel, Mortals, has a brief walk-on part in which we learn both her pedestrian forename and her satisfying surname). 

Setting aside here the question of a male novelist’s capacity to imagine female prose (whatever that is), it seems to me that a deeper challenge, and the one by which we might measure Rush’s capacities, is his ability to imagine a character with a complex, plausible intellectual life. Though the human heart tested to its limits is amply central in the history of the novel, a human mind functioning at the peak of its powers is less well represented (and, when amply charted, is more typically criminal: Charles Kinbote and Humbert Humbert, for two). As such, I’m less concerned about veracity of voice than I am with memorableness of mind. No one I know talks like Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, but that doesn’t stop me from believing in him. And no one I know takes in the world quite the way the narrator of Mating does. Read More »

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2: “I Had Been Working My Tits Down to Nubs”

March 19, 2015 | by

From “Martin Wade Leaves a Party” through “Sekopololo,” pp. 29–55

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This is the second entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

My God, that’s awful!” This was, by her own account, Elsa Rush’s reaction to one of the most memorable—and one of my favorite—lines in her husband’s novel: “I had been working my tits down to nubs.”

Some context: Our unnamed narrator is trying to ferret out what her current paramour, a British spy she calls Z., knows about the elusive Nelson Denoon, an iconoclastic figure in the anthropological world. Denoon, who has been hovering on the novel’s margins since its very first pages, will soon become—and I trust this is no spoiler—her lover; but, for the moment, he is merely “the pinnacle of whatever vineyard I was laboring in as a groundling,” the object of her “ressentiment.” “I was thirty-two,” our narrator explains, “and a woman and no doctorate yet, no thesis even, and closing in on my thesis deadline. I had been working my tits down to nubs in the study of man, with the result that my goals were receding farther the faster I ran.” Read More »

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1: “Where Was My Companion?”

March 16, 2015 | by

From “Another Disappointee” through “A Datum,” pp. 5–29

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This is the first entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

Here are a few of the things we learn about the narrator of Mating in the novel’s first twenty-five pages: She is an anthropologist manqué in Gaborone, Botswana. She has a good waist and voluminous hair. She’s dreamed, since preadolescence, of becoming an intercultural confidant, someone in whom the people of many nations are willing to confide. She’s been having irregular periods. She loves the sun. She hates baboons and TV. She speaks good Setswana. She’s a gifted mimic and a mnemonist, or something near enough. She doesn’t go in for free will. She wants, and in her opinion genuinely deserves, a lifetime companion.

Her voice—this brilliant, chatty, canny, imperious, cerebral, earthly, frivolous, pretentious, earnest, glib, fluent, funny voice—is the engine of the novel, and it entices (or repels) a first-time reader almost immediately. Our narrator is, simply put, strange. Her style is singular enough that it becomes, as with the best first-person fiction, a kind of motivator, an element of suspense: we’re reading to find out who’s talking. It’s not that she’s unreliable. On the contrary, after just a few voluble pages of her company, I’m prepared to open a joint bank account with her, even if I don’t know her name. What I do want to know is, Who is this person, who tosses off such phrases as “echt mama’s boy” and “naughtiness-based lustral seizure,” who has such a firm grasp of human relations and whose life, nonetheless, is steeped in loneliness? Read More »

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Introducing the Mating Book Club

March 9, 2015 | by

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On April 7, at our annual Spring Revel, we’re honoring Norman Rush with our Hadada Prize, presented each year to “a distinguished member of the writing community who has made a strong and unique contribution to literature.” To celebrate, the Daily is hosting a book club of sorts.

Starting next Monday, March 16, we’re running a series of posts about Rush’s seminal 1991 novel, Mating. Twice a week, from start to finish, we’ll have writers examine a twenty-five-page installment of the book—not just to discuss the plot, but to offer the same spirit of reflection, debate, and restless inquiry that animates the novel itself. Whether you’re an avid fan of the book or completely new to it, we invite you to read along. Read More »

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