Found out yesterday that Norman Rush (he of Mating, he of Mortals) will be in town this month talking at the Hammer Museum. This is like, well, watching James Salter manoeuvre around Hugh Hefner on the red carpet and proclaim it "ridiculous" at the PEN USA awards. Or it might be better.
So it was a divine surprise to belatedly get around to a back issue of The Paris Review (#194) to find an interview with Norman Rush. I have been waiting for his new novel for YEARS. YEARS, I tell you. I did not ever think it would happen. I am afraid to read it because...what then?
The Paris Review interview being less final made it easy for me to settle in for a delicious read. Here are a few of my most favorite snippets:
"I like to discern an unstated, but illustrated, argument in a novel. I mean, I like to become aware of an embodied view of a particular moral-slash-philosophical problem or circumstance. With my novels, I want readers to argue about my argument, at least in their heads. While writing I am very conscious of it."
"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, both Mating and Mortals have sad outcomes---but optimistic codas. So sue me."
"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 deeper 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."
I'm also struck by how many writers note Conrad's The Secret Agent as a work of great influence on their own work. Franzen mentioned it in his Paris Review interview as well (full text only available in print.)
I believe I had an enormous grin on my face the entire time I read this excellent interview (which includes his wife Elsa and her remarkable role in editing his work; also, did you know he was in prison for two years? Yeah.) over the span of a few stolen moments over a few days in a few downtown locations.
I'm still smiling now and fully expect to carry this warm Rush glow around with me until (and hopefully after?) his reading on May 24th.