Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Subtle Bodies

Norman Rush at age 80 has published his third novel, Subtle Bodies. There is evidence (as below) that he wrote the book on a typewriter, revising with multicolored ink-pens. I am old enough to think this looks familiar  but even to me such a manuscript has come to seem like an exotic artifact. A century from now, in some archive of the future, it will look normal again.

The story is set in 2003, just before the start of the Iraq War. In the passage below, one of the middle-aged male characters explains why he is disdainful of the anti-war petition that means so much to another of the middle-aged male characters 

"But here's what: they are going to do it, whatever you do.  The government decides what it wants. The State sings the Song of the State.  Brecht, I believe.  The Congress is out of it. And war makes money for the happy few.  War is like the prime interest rate, it is something the government takes care of.  Or like the Geodetic Survey, it is something the government takes care of.  The people don't care.  There is no draft.  And you know what?  I bet they love it.  The government loves it that you put on big walks and demonstrations, as big as hell, and you know why?  Why is because it keeps up the lie that you can do something about it, that the government can be touched in its heart.  And wars don't lose elections, either.  When the draft was on it was a little bit different, but not now.  And don't forget they lie.  And you can't prove it's a lie until thirty years later a scholar might and by then nobody cares."  

The final scene in the book is set in the midst of the anti-war marches that did historically take place in 600 cities around the world on February 15, 2003. The novel ends on that date, with the main character absolutely believing that his efforts (such as pressuring old friends into signing petitions) have succeeded and the Iraq War will not take place.