Friday, March 25, 2011

MATING by Norman Rush

A novel that takes 50 pages just to get itself underway had better contain some impressive local pleasures within those first 50 pages, and it had better blow my mind within the first one hundred. Mating fails on both counts. This novel was highly-praised and National Book Awarded upon publication, and that high hype leaves me all the more disappointed. Two problems loom over the entire book. First, despite Rush's age at publication, this was his first published novel, and he has yet to master one of the most important and difficult aspects of the novelist's art: pacing. This book lumbers so boringly through its first 100 pages that I doubt if most readers make it past them. Second, while more than one critic has praised Rush's prose, I remain immune to its dubious charms. The narrator's voice fails to grab me. I find it too flat and chatty and, worst of all, unconvincing. I don't 'hear' the character in the voice, and that's a fatal flaw in a 'voice' novel (a first-person narrative depending upon the narrator's distinctive voice to hold readerly interest). Comparing Rush's narration to the superior voice-work of Martin Amis in Money or Styron in Sophie's Choice puts into relief the banality of Mating's prose. Every reader can 'hear' John Self and Stingo. Rush's unnamed narrator is a comparative drone.

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