Norman Rush's new novel Subtle Bodies, which will be published tomorrow by New York publisher Alfred A. Knopf, is about a happy marriage. The married couple in question are Ned and Nina, who are trying to conceive a child. Nina has taken medication to make her ovulate, but Ned has flown across the country for the funeral of a college friend. Nina flies out in pursuit of her husband, and meets the surviving all male members of his college clique.
In my New York Journal of Books review of Subtle Bodies I write, "the novel compares and contrasts their [Ned and Nina's] intense and happy marriage with Ned’s waning friendships with his former classmates." I also describe the novel as "an enjoyable read."
It is my habit to read the books I review with my eyes while eating breakfast, and then listen to audiobooks of other books while shaving and getting dressed. Before and during the time I read Subtle Bodies I listened to two books about unhappy marriages, Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky and Ford Maddow Ford's The Good Soldier. The contrast between those fictional unhappy failed marriages and Ned and Nina's happy successful one enhanced the pleasure I took in reading Subtle Bodies.
I've long suspected that Tolstoy's remark at the opening of Anna Karenina about happy families being alike but unhappy ones being unhappy each in its own way was directed at readers who had already read Flaubert's Madam Bovary and may have been reluctant to read another novel about adultery leading to doom.
When it comes to married couples, or families of two, it is the unhappy ones that seem to follow a pattern: poor communication, lack of appreciation, betrayal, and estrangement. What happy couples have in common--in addition to mutual attraction, fondness, and admiration--is the commitment and discipline to work at making their partnerships happy, and that is certainly true of Mr. Rush's Ned and Nina. For a fuller discussion of Subtle Bodies read my New York Journal of Books review.