The Children in the Woods

Amid the prolific fictional output of Frederick Busch has come a wonderful variety of short stories, and this book offers a selection of those stories. This book also offers a fine view of the world Busch seeks to define in his fiction. That world is one that seems close to the reader: It is a world of families torn by the stresses of love and love’s failures, by lives lived and lost, by fidelities and infidelities.

Busch is especially fond of taking the perspective of the child, and he does so here on several occasions. The children sometimes tell their own stories in this collection, as they play witness to the fracturing of families or to their own private heartaches. These children also offer recollection and remembrance—they recall, from the vantage point of adulthood, childhoods pained by familial discord or blessed by familial love. Busch describes, too, the ways in which children come to understand some small piece of their worlds, or the ways in which they grope through the darkness of that world in hopes of finding the glimmer that is love’s light.

An especially powerful force in these stories is the past. The private worlds inhabited by Busch’s characters, and the substantive histories of those worlds, weigh heavily upon the personalities created by Busch. Reflection is a dominant mode in these stories, as characters cast back into memory in order to explain their present lives. Knowledge sometimes remains partial; human understanding of the world, says Busch, is often at best incomplete.

Ultimately, Frederick Busch offers a compelling and compassionate portrait of the human condition in his stories. He holds out to the reader the possibility of love, even though that love can fail, even though love’s energies can spin out of control or dissipate into indifference. Busch earns his vision of the world by testing emotion against the hard edge of human reality. Readers believe finally in Busch’s world because they recognize themselves as the inhabitants of that world. Such belief and such recognition are what the masters have always offered, and Busch clearly is one such master.