Busch, Frederick (Vol. 10)
Busch, Frederick 1941–
Busch is an American novelist, short story writer, critic, and editor. His self-professed major concerns in writing are characterization and point of view, and his fiction has been praised for its precise use of language and uncluttered prose style. The basic, elemental aspects of life, particularly family relationships, form the subject matter of much of Busch's fiction. (See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.)
Domestic Particulars is a story of unspectacular martyrdoms, senseless sacrifices, of the endurance of long subway rides that end up nowhere except in front of dimly lighted houses behind shrubbery, of the cold of the marriage bed, and the stoicisms of a depression-minded generation, the specific betrayals of energy and excitement that result from the squandering of lives for caution's sake….
Domestic Particulars is not an exhaustive treatise but a series of primary scenes, rich in incident and feeling, that seem to give the temperature of lives, and show the way they have been turning. Busch, who is one of our finest short story writers, is not ashamed of what his characters talk about and say. If they have any dignity it is because they are allowed to speak out of their feelings. (p. 468)
This novel has many … moments when its characters do things we almost wish for the sake of decorum they would not do, and then we realize that it is the same humanness that made them such victims which has now provided them with the gestures to express their victimization. It is an honest, angry, compassionate work, written with all the specificities of technique of the new novelists, but nowhere simply doing things for the sake of showing off. Domestic Particulars is committed to its strong subject matter, like people in a hostile integration, and to the air and light of particular days in Brooklyn, or on...
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Donald J. Greiner
[Busch's] first books, I Wanted a Year Without Fall (1971) and Breathing Trouble (1973), will become known as apprentice fiction, books in which he begins his tentative explorations of unspectacular lives surviving small but numbing crises. They are serviceable fictions that will be discussed and analyzed in future years as introductions to what may develop into a significant canon. With Manual Labor (1974) and Domestic Particulars (1976), however, Busch shows his mastery of familial frustration, his control of the sacrifices, misunderstandings, and love which make up the daily routine for most of us. The metaphors are convincing, the reading experience painful, the prose precise yet poetic. (p. 101)
Manual Labor is a novel about rebuilding a marriage, the sheer effort involved in renovating two lives. Physical work and emotional energy are expended, and the toil is exhausting. The title becomes a metaphor which reflects not only the work by Phil and Anne Sorenson to restore and old house but also the labor of bearing children…. What gives the novel its power is that the Sorensons are literally hoping to create their future lives out of the bloody losses of their immediate past….
The distinction between Anne's terror of death [in childbirth] and Phil's fear for the death of their marriage is crucial, one that reflects on their attitudes toward the manual labor. Anne says that the...
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[Something] exciting is going on in Busch's work that isn't going on anywhere else. Some of his virtues are old-fashioned enough: he's a superb storyteller, and he makes up people he cares about greatly. But finally his talent is anomalous, and the nature of his achievement is peculiarly hard to describe.
One way to begin is by taking note of a paradox that virtually rules contemporary taste in the arts. As an afternoon of gallery-going or a week of off-Broadway will show you, the approved formula for a new work, according to this paradoxical law, is that it should contain inverse proportions of emotional intensity and representation. In other words, great intensity is okay, if the art isn't descriptive or realistic or "about" anything real; whereas representational art, even a certain brand of realism, is okay, if its level of feeling is low enough. (p. 23)
So we have this curious divorce of feeling from the things that cause feeling, and the rarest artist, these days, is the one who, like Frederick Busch, is both mimetic and intense, and succeeds at the same time in sounding contemporary. His prose forswears the cool machinery of recent literary styles, as announced plainly on the first page of … I Wanted a Year Without Fall (1971):
Listen to an old-time lay: I am adrift, and no one now can say by whom and by what smoky light and in which acid waters I am going to...
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[The Mutual Friend] is a venturesome novel, a substantial achievement, and it should be widely read. For the author of Manual Labor and Domestic Particulars, this new work represents a change. The previous books were in some sense family documents—intensely personal texts, charged with contemporary discourse and present problems. Busch seemed a kind of poet of claustrophobia. Whether writing of the city or farm, in Brooklyn or New England's hills, he stayed very close to the bone. His characters had Breathing Trouble, as in an early title; he cut tight, constricting circles, and had his people leashed.
Now the circles have enlarged. The Mutual Friend, as its name should suggest, owes a great deal to Charles Dickens. It starts with Dickens in America, on a reading tour, and ends with the end of the 19th century, in a London charity hospital…. Busch's erudition has been put to fruitful use. The scholarship is unobtrusive yet always germane. His habit of disjunction (the stock-in-trade of a short-story writer, perhaps) seems formally appropriate: the novel has six separate units….
Whole sections of the novel are lifted from Dickens; his will is transcribed verbatim, as are swatches of the scenes—Nancy Sykes's murder, for instance—he read to such acclaim….
[The] risk, of course, entails the great original; why should the reader not disregard Busch and turn...
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The subject of Frederick Busch's intelligent, careful, often brilliant, but inert novel ["The Mutual Friend"] is Charles Dickens, the driven dying Dickens of 1867–70 as summoned up by Dolby, his tour manager and companion, as he himself is dying 30 years later, a charity case in a Fulham hospital….
It is a serious and scrupulous fiction Mr. Busch has concocted…. There are no elaborate set pieces of Victoriana, no huggermugger "vivid sights and sounds" where we might expect to find Oliver Twist or Pip walking down the street. Nor does Mr. Busch attempt to do a version of the Victorian novel, à la "The French Lieutenant's Woman." This is a contemporary American novel, written by a man who once wrote a book about John Hawkes….
The most striking positive virtue of "The Mutual Friend" is Mr. Busch's way with Dickens's voice, as speaker and occasional narrator. For Mr. Busch to try to make Dickens speak just as he wrote would have been folly, because that would make Mr. Busch both a competitor and a writer of pastiche. But it would have been equally foolish to have tried to imagine Dickens speaking in a way that had nothing to do with the way he wrote. It is a ticklish task, and on the whole Mr. Busch handles it admirably.
Roger Sale, "Not Quite Dickensian," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 9,...
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