Stephen Witt's Reviews > Mating

Mating by Norman Rush
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Sep 22, 2008

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A 55 year-old man writing as a 32 year-old woman is a conceit that seems destined to fail. But the narrative voice overwhelms you with its startling combination of neurotic insecurity, hyper-literary pretension and genuine academic insight. About a third of the way I began to wonder if I hadn't stumbled across some sort of post-Nabokovian masterpiece.

Then begins the heart of the story, which details her infatuation and love affair with a boring, quasi-messianic, intellectual narcissist. At this point I started to lose interest. The next 200 pages were a slog, and I kept thinking to myself "Honey, you could do better."

But then came the story's denouement, in which the narrator's total supplication and abasement seemed so grossly out-of-character that I wanted to throw the book across the room (I would have too, except I finished it on an airplane where this wasn't really an option). I suspect it may have been the author's intention to provoke this sort of reaction, but still it seems a shame to degrade and humiliate this brilliant character he just spent 450 pages building up.

Anyway, it confirmed my suspicion that no, a man can't really write as a woman in the first person. But for all that, the author is a major, major talent.

Edit: Two years later, I find Rush to be my favorite writer, but oddly I still don't really "like" either of his novels in a conventional sense. Maybe every great, ambitious book has to be flawed like this, like Moby-Dick or Huckleberry Finn. Not changing my 3-star rating, but read this book.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Joanna Baymiller hey stephen, i just joined this site, encouraged by my friend the poet sharon olsen (and apparently still under the high school influence of e e cummings' punctuation and (yes!) disdain for capital letters) and came across your review which, damn!, i admire.

- joanna


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

What about, Memoirs of a Geisha? I feel that narrative, denouement or no, was well done, perhaps making Nabokov quite proud.

Seriously though, I'm sure I would have lost interest myself, at the same or a similar point as you.


Lolly K Dandeneau Wow, so does this mean you like it or hate it. Have a love/hate relationship to it? I am about to read it, but now I have misgivings.


message 4: by Kae (new) - added it

Kae Wow. I definitely am going to read this sucker. :)


Gina I agree with your review. It's a wonder that I finished this tome. The frustration! So many holes. I personally related to this book from the expat perspective which kept my pained interest to endure reading it. I found the author's voice overpowering. His characters were fascinating and intellectual but I could not buy the conversations between the characters. The character development was so thin. I could have believed her diary logs but not her actual language. There was no distinction. It was pretentious and filled with antique English- isms that are only used by 3rd world colonialists from prior generations or non native English speakers.
I'm sorry but BOTH the main characters were Americans... California bred no less! Two Americans would not be able to help themselves and fall back into their true vernacular- even relish in it!
This was the sticking point for me. I could only see that damned picture of Norman in my head. He was the only character face that could form in my head. White, bearded, frowning Norman. Such a shame. There could have been a fresh storyline there. The end was dismal. His attempt to create this intellectually empowered female; strong willed, independent, driven, complicated-- all thrown out the window at the end as a fearful, insecure, disloyal, jealous mess who then lives off the exploits of Denoon as a career path. Ugh. What about Africa? This is such a white and sheltered perspective of a third world country. It's views are those of expats send on "hardship missions" or Peace Corps programs. It lacks soul and truth in the characters. I feel the author tried to make a book about a woman that glorifies man. Once again.


Chinaenye Ozigbu Gina wrote: "I agree with your review. It's a wonder that I finished this tome. The frustration! So many holes. I personally related to this book from the expat perspective which kept my pained interest to endu..."

First of all Africa is a continent, not a country. Don't know how you can mistake these two things unless you've had no geographical education whatsoever or you skipped high school.
Secondly, on your comment that the main perspective of the book was "a white and sheltered perspective of a third world country," I don't see how that's an actual problem, as it's far better to stick with what you know than try to write from the perspective of an actual African and end up stereotyping their perspective.


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