(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Readers of “Bruns,” one of the six stories in Norman Rush’s first book, WHITES (1987), will already be familiar with MATINGS’s narrator-protagonist, a thirty-two-year-old doctoral student in “nutritional anthropology” who, having spent eighteen months in the bush in Botswana doing research that has disproven the premise of her dissertation, finds herself free to do some sexual exploring. The novel’s narrator seems to know about as much about Botswana as does Norman Rush, who served as the Peace Corps’ regional director there from 1978 to 1983. For many readers, however, the overriding question will not be what the narrator knows about Botswana but what makes Rush think he knows enough about his narrator to write not only about her but in her voice. It is, given the sexual politics of the times, a rather risky narrative move on his part. The male novelist cross-dresses, as it were, in order to undertake his own research project into the sociosexual intellectual rituals of the contemporary age, not so much to answer as to ask anew Freud’s (in)famous question, What do women want?

The narrator wants a doctorate, a job, escape from her mother’s boorish, bigoted middle-classness, and Denoon Nelson, the world-class social reformer who is everything she is not (except white and bright): famous, sought-after, powerful, and of course male. Traveling uninvited to the utopian community he founded eight years before in the north-central Kalahari,...

(The entire section is 562 words.)