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...
(The entire section is 434 words.)
[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...
(The entire section is 1154 words.)
[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...
(The entire section is 1232 words.)
[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...
(The entire section is 528 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 238 words.)
Busch, Frederick (Vol. 166)
Frederick Busch 1941-
American novelist, short story writer, essayist, editor, and critic.
The following entry presents an overview of Busch's career through 2000. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 7, 10, 18, and 47.
Regarded as a skilled and insightful author, Busch is admired for his realistic fiction in which he experiments with different narrative voices to examine the private lives of his protagonists. In many of his novels and short story collections, including Manual Labor (1974) and Harry and Catherine: A Love Story (1990), Busch explores the strength of familial relationships and depicts the quiet heroism of characters who confront domestic catastrophes. While his works often examine such subjects as death and alienation, they also affirm Busch's faith in the nobility of human life.
Busch was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 1, 1941. After attending local schools, he entered Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he earned a B.A. in English in 1962. After graduating, Busch became a Woodrow Wilson fellow at Columbia University in New York. At Columbia, he studied seventeenth-century English literature while pursuing a master's degree, but eventually left the university without completing the program. Between 1963 and 1965, Busch held a variety of jobs including working as a clerk in a market-research firm, writing and editing for a series of small magazines, and briefly teaching English at Baruch College in New York City. In 1966 Busch was hired to teach at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. While teaching at Colgate, Busch enrolled in the university's Ph.D. English program. Although he never finished his doctorate, Busch earned a M.A. in English in 1967, writing a thesis on the fiction of John Hawkes. Busch's first two novels have never been published, but his third effort, I Wanted a Year without Fall (1971), and his first collection of short stories, Breathing Trouble and Other Stories (1973), were published and both met with critical acclaim. Busch was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1976, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 1981, and an Ingram Merrill Foundation fellowship in 1982. In 1986 he won the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction for Invisible Mending (1984) and was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his body of work. In 1991 he was awarded the PEN/Malamud Award for “distinguished achievement in the short story.” Busch has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1995 for his short story collection The Children in the Woods (1994), and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics' Circle Award for Fiction in 1999 and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2000 for his novel The Night Inspector (1999). Busch continues to teach at Colgate University as the Fairchild Professor of Literature while additionally serving as the director of the Living Writers program, a program that Busch founded.
Busch's literary career began in the 1970s with I Wanted a Year without Fall, a humorous contemporary adaptation of the Beowulf legend. I Wanted a Year without Fall was followed by the celebrated novels Manual Labor, The Mutual Friend (1978), and Rounds (1979). These works garnered Busch recognition as an author of novels that poignantly convey human emotions through diverse narrative viewpoints. Manual Labor evokes the grief experienced by a couple endeavoring to save their marriage after the wife suffers a miscarriage. The novel is related through the husband's journal entries, the wife's thoughts—presented in the form of an unmailed letter to her mother, and the voice of the dead child. The Mutual Friend departs from Busch's usual examination of contemporary relationships: the novel instead relates the story of the final years of author Charles Dickens from the perspective of George Dolby, Dickens's secretary. Rounds returns to familial concerns in its examination of pediatrician Eli Silver. Estranged from his wife following the death of their son, Silver suffers guilt and loneliness while trying to order his life through the discipline of his profession. During the 1970s, Busch also published several collections of short stories, including Breathing Trouble and Other Stories, Domestic Particulars: A Family Chronicle (1976), and Hardwater Country: Stories (1979). In Domestic Particulars, several members of an American family recount their ancestry and history from 1919 to 1976. The strained relationships within the family and their encounters with real and imagined crises are tempered by their enduring love for one another.
Busch's writing in the 1980s continued to depict domestic situations. Take This Man (1981) follows isolated events in the lives of Tony Prioleau, his lover Ellen Larue Spencer, and their illegitimate son Gus. Alternately comic and sad, the novel generates interest by contrasting the insecurities and hopes of the protagonists. Invisible Mending reminded some critics of the works of authors Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth in its depiction of a Jewish protagonist who struggles to come to terms with the Holocaust and its relationship to his heritage. In Sometimes I Live in the Country (1986) Busch explores marital discord and racial prejudice from the viewpoint of a suicidal urban adolescent who is removed to a rural community. Busch again departed from examining human relationships with When People Publish: Essays on Writers and Writing (1986). In this collection of essays, he shares his personal reflections on writing and examines the works of an assortment of his favorite authors. Absent Friends (1989) is a collection of short stories in which the common theme revolves around the characters' attempts to deal with love, loss, joy, and guilt—ideas Busch also treats in the novel War Babies (1989).
Harry and Catherine: A Love Story continues the on-again, off-again relationship of Harry and Catherine, first glimpsed in “The Trouble with Being Food,” a short story in Domestic Particulars, and who appear eight years later in the short story “The News” in Too Late American Boyhood Blues (1984). The novel follows the struggles of a fiercely independent woman and an almost too compassionate man who try, for the third time, to create a life together. Busch's next novel, Closing Arguments (1991), centers on Mark Brennan, a former Vietnam POW who is still haunted by the experiences he faced during the war. Now a lawyer, Brennan faces a modern world that seems to parallel his past in its violence and depravity while he searches for a simpler and more peaceful life. In Long Way from Home (1993), a mother abandons her husband and son to search for her birth mother in an attempt to come to grips with her past. The husband in turn abandons the child to search for his wife. The story is told from the son's point of view, exploring loneliness, abandonment, and a family's often stunted attempts at building relationships. Busch's disheartening view of the deterioration of relationships is central to the short stories in The Children in the Woods and Don't Tell Anyone (2000) as well as the novel Girls (1997). Girls is a continuation of the short story “Ralph the Duck,” which first appeared in Absent Friends. Jack, a college security guard, is asked to help solve the disappearance of a local teenage girl. He must cope with the loss of his own child—as described in “Ralph the Duck”—and come to terms with the widening chasm between his wife and himself, all while searching for the missing girl. With The Night Inspector, Busch returns to the genre of historical fiction. The novel is narrated by William Bartholomew, a Civil War veteran who is torn apart by the past both emotionally and physically. Bartholomew is forced to wear a mask after losing half of his face in the war. In an attempt to right various wrongs, Bartholomew tries to liberate a ship full of children destined for slavery. He enlists the help of a customs inspector known only as “M,” who is the author of a novel subtitled “The Whale.” The Night Inspector has been interpreted by some critics as a commentary on how novelist Herman Melville felt about the state of America after the Civil War.
Reception to Busch's writing has been generally positive, with many critics lauding his novels and short fiction for their precise use of language and uncluttered prose style. Reviewers have also praised Busch's compassionate characterizations and realistic use of dialogue, with critics such as Donald J. Greiner noting that Busch's works contain “… some of the most thoughtful dialogue written today.” Greiner has additionally praised the unique perspective that Busch brings to his modern love stories, arguing that “Busch is interested not in the cliché of the star-crossed lover but in the little tensions of the quotidian, the apparently insignificant slips and slides of the daily routine that eventually cause trouble in the kitchen, heartache in bed.” However, some reviewers have criticized Busch's attempts to expand characters and narratives from his short story collections into full-length novels, most notably in Harry and Catherine and Girls. Antonya Nelson has commented that Girls “does not achieve the same high level of synthesis” as “Ralph the Duck,” which she contends is a “short-story masterpiece.” Scholars have also commended Busch's works of historical fiction, complimenting the detailed descriptions of nineteenth-century America and England in The Mutual Friend and The Night Inspector.
I Wanted a Year without Fall (novel) 1971
Breathing Trouble and Other Stories (short stories) 1973
Hawkes: A Guide to His Fictions (nonfiction) 1973
Manual Labor (novel) 1974
Domestic Particulars: A Family Chronicle (short stories) 1976
The Mutual Friend (novel) 1978
Hardwater Country: Stories (short stories) 1979
Rounds (novel) 1979
Take This Man (novel) 1981
Invisible Mending (novel) 1984
Too Late American Boyhood Blues: Ten Stories (short stories) 1984...
(The entire section is 137 words.)
SOURCE: Busch, Frederick, and Miriam Berkley. “PW Interviews: Frederick Busch.” Publishers Weekly 225, no. 13 (30 March 1984): 58-9.
[In the following interview, Busch discusses his works, analyzes his attachment to his characters, and shares insights on his life and his approach to writing.]
Frederick Busch writes fiction in a barn built for sheep in the small upstate New York town of Sherburne. Visible in the distance is Cooperstown, with the Baseball Hall of Fame he loves. A few hundred yards from his study is the renovated farmhouse he shares with his wife, Judy, and their two sons; the kitchen is toasty from a wood-burning stove. It's clear, crisp and...
(The entire section is 2404 words.)
SOURCE: Pritchard, William H. Review of Sometimes I Live in the Country, by Frederick Busch. Hudson Review 39, no. 4 (winter 1987): 646-47.
[In the following excerpt, Pritchard presents a primarily favorable assessment of Busch's Sometimes I Live in the Country.]
Mr. Busch is a veteran whose book [Sometimes I Live in the Country] (the eleventh to his credit) takes as its familiar stomping ground the unmemorable patch of run-down upstate New York farm country north of Binghamton, south of Utica, dotted by towns with names like Sherburne, Poolville, Hubbardsville. This area, filled with marginal houses (“shitboxes” the narrator calls them here) and...
(The entire section is 362 words.)
SOURCE: Blades, John. “Author Revels in the Joys and Dangers of Writing.” Chicago Tribune Books (8 February 1987): 3.
[In the following review, Blades praises Busch's essays in When People Publish, giving particular commendation to the selections that are introspective.]
Taking his cue from Hemingway, Frederick Busch calls serious writing a “dangerous” practice, going on to warn: “It doesn't keep the darkness out. Nothing so safe: it lets the darkness in.” By that definition, Busch himself is a dangerous man, a prince of darkness, and anyone with delusions about writing as a reasonably safe and sane occupation had best avoid his books, in...
(The entire section is 678 words.)
SOURCE: Busch, Frederick, and Donald J. Greiner. “An Interview with Frederick Busch.” Iowa Review 18, no. 2 (summer 1988): 147-73.
[In the following interview, Busch analyzes current critical theory and its effect on writers, discusses the inconvenience of being both a writer and a teacher, evaluates his education and its impact on his writing, and gives in-depth explanations about the inspirational sources for his works.]
Born in Brooklyn in 1941, Frederick Busch now lives on more than one hundred acres of untamed countryside in Sherburne, New York. He was educated at Muhlenberg College and Columbia University, and since 1971 he has published thirteen...
(The entire section is 12098 words.)
SOURCE: Garrett, George. “American Publishing Now.” Sewanee Review 96, no. 3 (summer 1988): 516-17.
[In the following excerpt, Garrett provides a positive assessment of Busch's When People Publish.]
These wildly different books are, in one way and another, devoted to publishing and the contemporary scene in publishing—or, at least, they profess to be dealing with publishing. Of course, either way, and perhaps this is appropriate, considering the ostensible subject, you can be fooled.
For instance, it is hard to believe that Frederick Busch and his publisher, the University of Iowa Press, didn't set out to sucker somebody with When People...
(The entire section is 447 words.)
SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “The Sorrow and the Pity Balanced by Power and Beauty.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (28 May 1989): 3.
[In the following review, Eder praises the stories in Busch's Absent Friends and provides highlights of the pieces he finds particularly poignant.]
If Frederick Busch wrote about grapes, the birds would eat them off the pages. He writes about people, and we rock slightly in their wind as they go by.
Like other prominent American short story writers, his subject is distances of all kinds; between mates, lovers, friends, generations, bosses and employees, and most of all, between the individual and his or her life....
(The entire section is 1029 words.)
SOURCE: Shafer, Fred. “Love and Guilt.” Chicago Tribune Books (19 November 1989): 4.
[In the following laudatory review of War Babies, Shafer compliments Busch's skillful characterizations.]
One of Frederick Busch's achievements as a writer of fiction lies in his ability to portray a mature, sensitive relationship between a man and a woman.
His latest novel, War Babies, centers on Peter Santore, an American lawyer whose father was a turncoat in the Korean War, and Hilary Pennel, the daughter of an English officer who died a martyr in the same POW camp where Santore's father collaborated with the enemy. They meet and fall swiftly in...
(The entire section is 702 words.)
SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Can You Love a Woman Who Scares You?” Los Angeles Times Book Review (25 February 1990): 3, 5.
[In the following favorable review of Harry and Catherine, Eder examines the dynamics of the relationship between the two title characters.]
Harry: Brave, funny and a little tubby, battered by life into understanding but not yet out of outrageousness, is as truly a modern male hero as a very large-size writer such as Frederick Busch can devise. And Catherine, brave, funny, long-legged, big-shouldered, sexy and intransigent, is as truly a wonderful woman.
In their 40s, each loves the other more than either has ever loved...
(The entire section is 1123 words.)
SOURCE: Wilhelmus, Tom. Review of Absent Friends, by Frederick Busch. Hudson Review 43, no. 1 (spring 1990): 153-54.
[In the following excerpt, Wilhelmus examines the subtle message of hope and empowerment in Absent Friends.]
In contrast, something fascinatingly altruistic haunts the pages of Frederick Busch's new book, Absent Friends, despite its themes of loneliness and estrangement. Busch begins this collection of fourteen stories with an epigram from A Tale of Two Cities the burden of which is that every beating heart is “a secret to the heart nearest it,” and that “Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself” may be referable to...
(The entire section is 490 words.)
SOURCE: D'Evelyn, Thomas. Review of Harry and Catherine, by Frederick Busch. Christian Science Monitor (25 April 1990): 13.
[In the following review, D'Evelyn praises the way Busch challenges readers to make choices in Harry and Catherine.]
Two men as different as they can be think they love Catherine. One, named Carter, is all action, a contractor in the building trades; the other, named Harry, is a word man, once a poet and journalist, now an aide for a senator from New York. Tough choice for Catherine.
Harry & Catherine, the new novel by Frederick Busch, who is a professor of literature at Colgate University, is about these two...
(The entire section is 807 words.)
SOURCE: Greiner, Donald J. “The Absent Friends of Frederick Busch.” Gettysburg Review 3, no. 4 (autumn 1990): 746-54.
[In the following essay, Greiner analyzes Busch's characterizations in regard to definitive gender roles, sexual identity and freedom in Harry and Catherine and War Babies.]
Not many American authors make a career of writing about adult love. The vagaries of youth seem more popular, sweetly sad accounts of how the indifferent world, or war, or family, or life itself trips up the first, tentative steps toward passion and commitment. But for Frederick Busch the dilemmas of middle age are the heart of fiction, the complex material that the...
(The entire section is 4420 words.)
SOURCE: Johnson, Greg. “Novellas for the Nineties.” Georgia Review 45, no. 2 (summer 1991): 363-65, 370-71.
[In the following excerpt, Johnson examines the “novella” genre and gives a favorable review of War Babies.]
Beloved by writers, but often scorned by editors and readers, the novella has held a long but uncertain tenancy in the house of fiction. Traditionally considered too brief for individual publication in book form, but too lengthy for the format of most magazines and journals, the novella has broken into print most often as part of a short-story collection or alongside several other novellas in a classroom anthology. A few contemporary writers have...
(The entire section is 1587 words.)
SOURCE: Fortuna, Diane. Review of Closing Arguments, by Frederick Busch. America 166, no. 3 (1 February 1992): 67-8.
[In the following review, Fortuna comments on what she considers Busch's adept handling of the moral ambiguity of the modern era in Closing Arguments.]
Perhaps the last years of a century always produce a cultural perception of decadence and chaos. At the turn of the 20th century, diminutive Henry Adams, it is said, walked up and down the halls of Congress shaking his head and complaining that the country was going to the dogs. In our own time, fin-de-siècle despair seems augmented by millenial jitters. Violence, perverse sexuality and...
(The entire section is 707 words.)
SOURCE: Malin, Irving. Review of Closing Arguments, by Frederick Busch. Review of Contemporary Fiction 12, no. 1 (spring 1992): 162.
[In the following review, Malin examines the violence of action and of words in Closing Arguments.]
Although many readers of this terrifying, violent novel [Closing Arguments] will view it as a narrative of sexual obsession, of “innocence” and “guilt” (or the ambiguity of each term), they will not notice that Busch is a philosophical writer who is aware of linguistic uncertainty, epistemological difficulty. The novel, we can say, moves on two levels. The narrator, a Vietnam survivor, is a lawyer asked to defend...
(The entire section is 435 words.)
SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Chaos, Convincingly.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (16 May 1993): 3, 8.
[In the following review, Eder finds that the beginning of Long Way from Home would be excellent as a short story, but by stretching the story to novel length, Busch loses the tight plot and seamless flow present in his other works.]
The opening of Frederick Busch's new novel [Long Way from Home] is like an abandon-ship alarm in the small hours of the morning. In our cloudy awakening, it is a siren too insistent to be imagined; at the same time there is the dream-like chaos of feet pattering in different directions, a continual unintelligible snarling over...
(The entire section is 1183 words.)
SOURCE: Allen, Bruce. Review of The Children in the Woods, by Frederick Busch. Chicago Tribune Books (13 March 1994): 6.
[In the following review, Allen praises the short stories contained in The Children in the Woods.]
Frederick Busch's accomplished and disturbing stories operate as if they're soundings—in which a delicate sensing device is lowered into fissures in the surfaces of marriage and family life, emerging covered with fragmented, bloodied, incriminating minutiae.
Assembled with commanding artistry, they're discoveries of the harm that we, as children and parents and spouses and lovers, unthinkingly do to one another and to...
(The entire section is 946 words.)
SOURCE: McGrath, Patrick. “A Trail of Bread Crumbs.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (20 March 1994): 3, 9.
[In the following review, McGrath feels that Busch demonstrates skillful and powerful writing abilities in several stories in The Children in the Woods, but that many of the tales lack the in-depth characterization and plot structure for which Busch is known.]
One of the strongest stories in Frederick Busch's new collection, The Children in the Woods, is “Berceuse,” and one of the strongest moments in “Berceuse” comes when an awful Jewish woman called Miriam tells her goy sister-in-law Kim that Kim's recent miscarriage occurred...
(The entire section is 1226 words.)
SOURCE: Allen, Glen Scott. Review of The Children in the Woods, by Frederick Busch. Studies in Short Fiction 32, no. 2 (spring 1995): 237-38.
[In the following review, Allen enthusiastically lauds Busch's eloquence and the form and content of the stories contained in The Children in the Woods.]
When someone asked Emmanuel Sléyès what he had done during the Reign of Terror, he replied, “I survived.” Though the characters in the stories of Frederick Busch's latest collection [The Children in the Woods] don't have to contend with quite the same adversities as Monsieur Sléyès, they nevertheless encounter revelations that are, in our modern context,...
(The entire section is 886 words.)
SOURCE: Hanstedt, Paul. “Plot and Character in Contemporary Fiction.” Shenandoah 47 (winter 1997): 128-29, 132-35.
[In the following excerpt, Hanstedt expresses the importance of characterization and a well written plot in novels and, using this criteria, gives Busch's Girls a positive assessment.]
Perhaps one of the best-known maxims concerning fiction comes from E. M. Forster, who, in 1927, wrote:
We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. “The king died and then the queen died” is a story. “The king...
(The entire section is 1365 words.)
SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Darkness Visible.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (16 March 1997): 2.
[In the following review of Girls, Eder finds that Busch's characters appear one-dimensional and his heavy-handed morality is occasionally overbearing.]
In subzero weather, several dozen diggers work their way across a snow-covered field in upstate New York. It looks like Breughel, but it is Hieronymus Bosch.
Police and townspeople prod and sift for the corpse of Janice Tanner, a 14-year-old murdered by her middle-aged lover. They wield their shovels and crowbars with exemplary delicacy. “The idea was not to break any frozen parts of her away.”...
(The entire section is 1180 words.)
SOURCE: Nelson, Antonya. “Literary Fiction Meets Detective Novel in the Search for a Missing Girl.” Chicago Tribune Books (16 March 1997): 5, 11.
[In the following review, Nelson praises Busch's portrayal of Jack, an emotionally bombarded protagonist in Girls, but asserts that the novel attempts to combine too many genres resulting in an uneven work.]
“Ralph the Duck,” by Frederick Busch, is a short-story masterpiece. In it, a tough guy narrates the aftermath of a personal tragedy—the death of his daughter—by providing an account of his days as campus cop at a small New England college. His job is to baby-sit the men and women—boys and girls, in...
(The entire section is 1074 words.)
SOURCE: Busch, Frederick, and Charlotte Zoë Walker. “Practitioner of a Dangerous Profession: A Conversation with Frederick Busch.” Poets & Writers 27, no. 3 (May-June 1999): 33-7.
[In the following interview, conducted in March 1999, Busch discusses Letters to a Fiction Writer and The Night Inspector, and ruminates about the short-story genre.]
Frederick Busch is one of our most distinguished and accomplished fiction writers. Of his 23 published books, 19 are fiction. His 4 nonfiction works are all related to his passionate engagement with the craft of writing. He has been awarded the PEN/Malamud award for achievement in short fiction, has won...
(The entire section is 3196 words.)
SOURCE: Pinsker, Sanford. “About Writers: Hack, Serious, and Academic.” Georgia Review 53, no. 1 (spring 1999): 164-65, 169-72.
[In the following excerpt, Pinsker examines how writers feel about their profession, and provides a positive assessment of A Dangerous Profession, Busch's collection of essays about writing.]
“This isn't writing,” Truman Capote famously observed about Jack Kerouac's On the Road, “it's typing.” Thus was it ever—from the days when putting words on the page was so much scribble-scribble with a quill pen, to pounding away on a manual typewriter, and finally to our current love affair with keyboarding. What has...
(The entire section is 2113 words.)
SOURCE: Frank, Michael. “More! Again!” Los Angeles Times Book Review (30 May 1999): 7-8.
[In the following excerpt, Frank rationalizes that being an avid reader directly influences an author's work and outlook on life, and examines Busch's A Dangerous Profession in relation to this theory.]
All reading is rereading. Consider: It is said that in order to learn a new word, children must hear it repeated on average 72 times. Their first books are splendidly versatile objects, part toy, part teething tool, part picture gallery, part—largely—containers of magical shapes that compel an adult to speak the same sounds over and over, making a rhyme or a story...
(The entire section is 1317 words.)
SOURCE: Hove, Thomas. Review of The Night Inspector, by Frederick Busch. Review of Contemporary Fiction 19, no. 3 (fall 1999): 179.
[In the following review, Hove praises Busch's The Night Inspector, describing it as an outstanding work of historical fiction.]
This remarkable historical novel [The Night Inspector] has one of the most interesting narrators in recent American fiction, a former sniper for the Union during the Civil War named William Bartholomew. His story plays out in 1867, in Manhattan's nightmarish Five Points neighborhood, where he befriends a customs inspector—one Herman Melville, whose fiction he at one time read and admired....
(The entire section is 332 words.)
SOURCE: Flower, Dean. “Cynicism and Its Discontents.” Hudson Review 52, no. 4 (winter 2000): 659-61.
[In the following excerpt, Flower compliments Busch's prose in The Night Inspector and comments on what he sees as the novel's gloomy atmosphere in the post-Civil War era.]
Other writers find it a much grimmer proposition, as Frederick Busch's latest novel [The Night Inspector] indicates. Its narrator, William Bartholomew, is a former sharpshooter in the Union Army who wears a prosthetic mask because half of his face has been blown away. Now a successful businessman by day, he stalks the streets of New York City by night, remembering each deadly bullet...
(The entire section is 570 words.)
SOURCE: Review of Don't Tell Anyone, by Frederick Busch. Publishers Weekly 247, no. 34 (21 August 2000): 44.
[In the following review, the critic commends Busch for presenting moving prose and heartrending stories in Don't Tell Anyone.]
Because his writing is masterly and his perceptions dazzling and true, it's exhilarating to encounter each of the 16 stories and one novella in Busch's new collection [Don't Tell Anyone]. All of them resonate with incisive observations about the burdens of love and connectedness, and the inevitability of betrayal and disillusion. In every story, the dialogue is brisk, funny and tender, sometimes improbably whip-smart but...
(The entire section is 409 words.)
SOURCE: Guy, David. “Secrets and Lies.” Washington Post Book World (12 November 2000): 8.
[In the following laudatory review, Guy explores the many deceptions and hidden lives in Busch's Don't Tell Anyone.]
My favorite piece in this collection of expert stories [Don't Tell Anyone] is the last one, a mid-length novella entitled “A Handbook for Spies.” Willie Bernstein is an English instructor in upstate New York in the '60s. He is dodging the draft and trying to figure out who he is, so hapless that he doesn't even know that his instructor status is itself a draft deferment; he doesn't need another.
Into his life walks the daughter of...
(The entire section is 780 words.)
Bell, Millicent. “Fiction Chronicle.” Partisan Review 64, no. 4 (fall 1997): 613-14.
Bell provides an overview of Busch's novel Girls.
Coates, Joseph. “Modern Romance.” Chicago Tribune Books (25 March 1990): 1, 7.
Coates commends Busch's well-drawn characters and crisp, realistic dialogue in Harry and Catherine.
“Childish Parents.” Economist 327, no. 7816 (19 June 1993): 95.
The critic examines the selfish activities of the parents in Long Way from Home.
Ferriss, Lucy. Review of Girls, by Frederick Busch. Prairie...
(The entire section is 250 words.)
Busch, Frederick (Vol. 18)
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 aspects of life, particularly family relationships, form the subject matter of much of Busch's fiction. (See also CLC, Vols. 7, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.)
[The Mutual Friend is Frederick Busch's] scrupulous recreation in novel form of Charles Dickens and those who attended him in his last years.
The novel begins in [the] 1867 period with Dickens's public readings in America, and the dinner with Longfellow figures in the early pages. "Begins" is a misleading word here, for Busch's admirable technique is anything but linear. With a firm control over his material—he is faithful to the recorded facts and intuitive with his inventions—he presents this account of the years leading up to Dickens's death, and its aftermath, from different points of view. He divides up the task among several narrators….
Each narrator unfolds a separate episode, as well as a separate relationship to the Chief, as he was called, and in so doing reveals facts and circumstances which foretell events leading up to the time of his death. This intent is clarified with the frequent repetition of the question: "Is it not curious how what is written may later come to pass?" This manner of relating the story is both a strength and a weakness. The obvious strength is in the cumulative effect: each time one learns more of what lies ahead. (p. 99)
The weakness, if it is one, of this method, where all the pieces only tally up at the end, as in a dramatic work, is that it does not allow for a deep involvement on the part of the reader—who is occupied in simply keeping track of...
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Frederick Busch has called his novel about Dickens The Mutual Friend. An alternative title might have been Great Expectorations. (p. 61)
The Dickens reassembled in [The Mutual Friend] pulsates with energy, creative and destructive: fires break out around him as he uses up himself and others in a consuming commitment to his work. But if the figure is vibrant, it is also familiar. There is nothing new in this reconstruction of the novelist and much is romantically naive. A hackneyed stress falls on the usual polarities: the life-lover who frequented morgues and corpses; the bard of the hearth who broke up his home; the prosperous law-abider drawn compulsively towards the derelict and criminal.
Contrasts fascinate Mr. Busch. A few miles or a few years, he keeps emphasising, could make an immeasurable difference to the worlds in which people lived in 19th-century England. Dickens, seen as exploiting this, visits the warrens of the destitute as a sightseer. Alcoholic Dolby, on the other hand, becomes a resident of squalor, and the book heaps hideous details round him as he soggily decays. Filth and disease are itemised with an absorbed inventiveness lacking from the novel's characterisations, so that, finally, the Victorian netherworld and the mouldering bodies of its denizens come to dominate the book. (p. 62)
Peter Kemp, "Mouldering Bodies" (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1979; reprinted by permission of Peter Kemp), in The Listener, Vol. 101, No. 2593, January 11, 1979, pp. 61-2.∗
After reading several … stories in "Hardwater Country" with only partial success, I was led to some … reflections. Here they are.
When asked how he approached his sculpture, Michelangelo replied that he simply cut away the stone surrounding his vision. In his stories, Mr. Busch offers us the chips and shards of experience surrounding his vision, and leaves it to us to deduce the vision for ourselves. To put it another way, most of his stories seem to be composed of the waste materials of action or decision.
His stories are sometimes reminiscent, too, of those records that feature a rhythm section playing the background to a melody so that you can accompany it on a solo instrument of your own choosing. (p. 201)
Anatole Broyard, "Reading a Modern Story," in The New York Times, Section III (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 28, 1979 (and reprinted in Books of the Times, Vol. II, No. 4, 1979, pp. 200-01).
[The stories collected in Hardwater Country demonstrates that Frederick Busch] is a skilled writer, as capable of using a woman's consciousness as narrator as a man's. He can write with equal facility and conviction in the first person as a plumber who comes to the house of an incompetent Jew to fix his pump; as an inventory-taker who works at a failing Midwestern bookstore and is at the same time in search of a brother he thinks has died…. Busch's method is to start with the commonplace…. [Using] ordinary materials he works shrewdly toward extraordinary endings. Every one of these 13 stories is interesting, and many of them are so beautifully controlled and moving as to be unforgettable. Busch has no single "style" or voice. Instead he adopts a new persona, a new voice, for every story. The result is characters and events of great originality.
Doris Grumbach, "'Light' Reading for Late Spring: 'Hardwater Country'," in The Chronicle of Higher Education (copyright © 1979 by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inc.), May 14, 1979, p. R10.
The stories in "Hardwater Country" are not easy to categorize. Many have rural settings; some do not. Most are narrated by a male character; some are not. Some are written in a terse, broken staccato; some flow easily and naturally. None is boldly dramatic. Each deals with moments and details in routine days of mostly unexceptional lives.
The artistry of Frederick Busch consists of stripping away conventions of setting, plot and description, and carrying the reader swiftly into the crevices of particular lives. There is a sense of physical intimacy created between reader and characters, not for the purpose of revealing shocking or unspeakable mysteries, but in order to show the subtle shifts in mood and behavior that compose the rhythms of life.
Robert Kiely, "Entertainments and Absurdities: 'Hardwater Country'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 1, 1979, pp. 12, 25.
To judge by [Hardwater Country] anything Frederick Busch wants to convey in the short-story form, he can. He tells you the small, beautiful truths about the usual short-story subjects: family, neighbors, the different kinds of love…. Busch writes delicately and accurately about the power and impotence that children have within the family, as in "What You Might as Well Call Love," "My Father, Cont." and others. His stories are somber, but filled with hope; they are, in fact, uplifting, without any palpable attempt on the author's part to moralize. Busch deals with the things that matter.
Amy Wilentz, "Book Notes: 'Hardwater Country'," in The Nation (copyright 1979...
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Despite the homely virtues with which their creator has endowed them, the characters in ["Rounds"] are often a little hard to take. Whether physicians, academics or undergraduates, they all talk too much and at unrelaxed levels of cleverness and cuteness. They leave little unsaid, no verbal shot unreturned.
The source of the problem is that Frederick Busch wants to display in realistic detail his characters in their daily rounds…. The author knows how certain things are done in the world, and is not content to leave his knowledge in the background. But as a novelist he also knows that conversation is not dialogue, that what two people say to each other in their daily rounds is generally short,...
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Frederick Busch has written seven considerable works of fiction since 1971…. His subject is that bare, forked animal, unaccommodated man, in his domestic particulars: the dark night of the soul, as we all know, is quite likely to happen while you're fixing the flashing on the porch roof. Busch vigorously accepts the incongruity of domestic tragedy and under-writes it, requiring his reader to pay attention and notice the small signs of human experience….
Rounds is full of quick, sure portraits, many of them funny, the best of them etched in acid: the young and spacy, the dying, the newborn, the loving and the merely horny, the middle-aged who muddle through and the emotionally illiterate of...
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Busch's craft, imagination, and versatility are impressive, and his work has met with critical praise, yet he has not found the wide audience he deserves. Rounds, more conventional than his earlier work, may change that; although I don't think it is his most interesting book, it may be the most fully realized.
In a sense, [The Mutual Friend] also pays homage to Dickens, who was similarly preoccupied with domestic complexities as well as being a master of certain plot devices Busch employs here. There are important differences. Busch's scope is not Dickensian; he explores grand themes—love, birth, and death—but on a small canvas. Contemporary social issues are peripheral. And there...
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Frederick Busch's deeply moving novel [Rounds] probes the harrowed lives of two middle-aged couples struck by recent tragedy…. Faced with a childless void, each pair must overcome the inevitable, stalking demons—the compulsive guilt, the overriding urge to fix blame, the gnawing sense of insufficiency—that bar them from the therapeutic restitution of their selves and the necessary redefinition of their relationships.
The Silvers and the Sorensons undertake this task in different ways, and Busch's alternation of the telling of their stories enhances his theme….
The men and women who inhabit the fictions of Frederick Busch have always been an unfortunate lot. They are...
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The mind simply boggles at the contortions of which [Busch] is capable. [In Hardwater Country there] is such a wealth of characters, and personae, and occupations, and locales, and craft at his disposal that I am inclined to forgive him his minor deviations from good form. I might prefer the Mink Snopes of The Hamlet to the Buddy Preston of "Land of the Free," but, dammit, Busch has made B. P. equally convincing. And though "Family Circle" milks dry the device of retardation, of gradually revealed information, by the end of the story we have become so submerged in the tangled and equivocal relations between the grandfather, his "woman-about-the-house," daughter, son-in-law, and grandson that we forget...
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Busch, Frederick (Vol. 7)
Busch, Frederick 1941–
Busch is an American novelist, short story writer, and editor. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36.)
Frederick Busch sets stories in the remoter Lake District, the west of Ireland and the hills of New York State, and offers [in Breathing Trouble] not only dismal but macabre glimpses of the human condition: a man obsessively returning to a rubbish dump for 'what's left'; a father and daughter waiting to hear from the mortuary when the winter-hard earth will have softened sufficiently to allow the refrigerated mother to be buried. Throughout the stories, a morbid self-absorption nuzzles in a closer than comfortable relation with loss and death.
Busch's message is at times gloomily convincing. A metaphoric, rhythmed prose provides an often powerful back-up to the plot, conveying states of heart and broken mind more adequately than any long, authorial explanation…. But he takes his characters and their problems over-seriously and forces a solemn symbolism on material sometimes too flimsy to hold it, as in his zoo story where, finding ourselves benighted in the Nocturnal Mammal House, we are not allowed to miss the existential significance of the instructions to STAND IN PLACE UNTIL YOUR EYES ARE USED TO THE DARK. (p. 231)
Susan Knight, in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), February 15, 1974.
Frederick Busch's is a spiky and demanding talent. A highly self-conscious writer, his style draws attention to itself like the raised sinews of a poised hand, and the act of writing and the difficulties a writer has in relating to others are recurrent themes. Mr Busch insists on the gap between words and the inchoate processes of feeling. Things are catalogued and vividly rhapsodized in the continuous present, but the characters [in Breathing Trouble and Other Stories] talk either obliquely or with the empty and circling inanities to which two closely related people frequently have recourse. On occasions, inevitably, the tautness falls over into over-writing…. [But what] saves these stories from banality or melodrama is a remarkable ability to catch, to transcribe, the American voice and the indeterminations and discontinuities of conversation.
"The Formless Flux," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1974; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), February 22, 1974, p. 173.
Conversations and events twang with tension [in Manual Labor], though there's something odd about how it's done. Busch draws a disparate power out of words which, looked at slowly, could as easily be innocuous; he presents paining disputes which can often be entirely convincing without really evoking the hostilities involved or mentioning the subjects concerned. Perhaps it's this: the characters are themselves reading and talking between the lines, treading too carefully, sometimes being noncommittal and overly considerate, to the point where the arguments are partly over this process itself. (p. 192)
As a phrase, "failure of communication" can't help suggesting a trite and trendy outlook, but as played in this novel it is simply human. Mostly. Well, Busch certainly escapes trendiness in his principle that repairs are possible and desirable, that Phil and Anne are not utter clunks for … [their] principle that one can live even with a cracked wall "as long as we can fix it." This principle is so firmly woven into the book that even the ending comes off not nearly so goofy as it would be in isolation.
I must complain about the framework. The fetal voices end up feeling ghoulish, despite restraint, and succeed in providing neither continuity nor a wider perspective. The long first-person narratives could have been presented as such without excuse; even though the act of shutting oneself off to squirrel away pages enters usefully into the plot, the mechanism remains cumbersome. (pp. 192-93)
Mitchell Marks, in Chicago Review (reprinted by permission of Chicago Review; copyright © 1974 by Chicago Review), Vol. 26, No. 3, 1974.
["Manual Labor"] is presented in stark, chilling detail by … three separate voices, and though it is for the most part a meditative, poetic achievement, there are moments when Busch accumulates such tension that the reading of it is almost painful….
"Manual Labor" is something of a tour de force. Stylistically, it is very "contemporary," that is, its sentences are terse, cautious, precise, at times mildly ironic, but never do they veer into abstraction. For nearly the entire length of the novel, Busch is concerned with setting down the observed physical details of his characters' New Hampshire and Maine houses. We follow the Sorensons as they work, sometimes together, sometimes separately…. They work almost constantly, because it is work—manual labor—that is their salvation. Close to the edge of disaster, as they are, and at the novel's conclusion, close to the edge of the ocean, they must put their faith in simple, physical things, and in their unquestioned love for each other, if they want to survive. This desperate and perhaps monomaniacal necessity is reflected in the novel's prose.
It is as if the deliberately underplayed technique of the French nouveau roman were utilized for humanistic purposes, with the intention of charting not the helpless disintegration of two people but, boldly enough, their difficult, minimal survival and the subsequent strengthening of their marriage. The novel's concluding words are: "We'll live." Frederick Busch is to be congratulated for having so beautifully combined the rigorous discipline of one kind of novel with the genuinely compelling concerns of another. (p. 66)
Joyce Carol Oates, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 3, 1974.
The first paragraph—indeed the first phrase—of Frederick Busch's second novel, Manual Labor, presents a nearly insuperable obstacle to our reading on:
After I died they moved from Massachusetts and they bought a house and acres of land in New Hampshire where they rose early and worked all day at projects with their hands….
"This is a romance," says the bled-away fetus, the boy that they lost in the middle of month nine after nine years of marriage, preparing us for the tale which he is about to help unfold….
In the beginning is the end: before the Sorensons are permitted to glimpse the dawning of a new day, they will know all manner of catastrophe…. But somehow they will transcend all this (though exactly how or why we never know, save that the preconceived design of the novel requires it and the author says so)….
Now a writer takes an awful chance when he invokes a fetal narrator. Making all possible allowances in the name of goodwill, conceding almost everything to "romance" and its loose, commodious conventions, the besieged mind refuses assent. To make matters worse, not only is the idea unacceptable, it is unnecessary. Nothing comes of it—no resonance, no poignancy, no sense of loss, of waste, of anguish, no added perspective, no special insight or knowledge, only the foolish put-upon reviewer's sense of absurdity that this should need saying, that a fetus, however advanced in term, makes for one hell of an embarrassing narrator….
The narration is deployed in roughly equal parts between two voices, hers and his (or three, if you include its)—the stream of their consciousness, hers in the form of a "letter" to her mother which is not intended for the mails, but only as a means of disgorging herself of her torments, and his as a kind of journal. Both the "letter" and the journal are immensely self-conscious; she's vaguely "artistic," he's an aspiring poet, and both strive for literary effect, both of them continuously aware of themselves as engaged in the act of composition, of "writing." The agonized, lurid turbulence of her "letter" with its endless repetitions and variations, its moist glandular biologizing, owes far more to merely literary, attitudinizing madness than to the authentic inner life of a fully created character. Generally, he is merely boring when not fatuous, energetic only in his descriptions of the processes by which dilapidated houses may be restored and renovated—only, that is, when he's writing a handbook of "manual labor." He, too, is "literary" in the invidious sense: manual labor as spiritual healing, that odd romantic notion.
Everything is given, nothing revealed. Everything has its source in literary conceit smuggled in from the presumed American romantic tradition…. (p. 25)
Words clog all passages; events are never permitted to happen…. In a rigged, wildly improbable and prevailingly silly dénouement and climax the world bursts in upon their isolation in the form of a fugitive government lawyer, literally a runaway who hides out in a nearby abandoned church, who has suffered the world too much and can endure it no longer….
In college workshops across the land this sort of thing sometimes goes by the name of "creative writing"; there still exist undergraduates who are moved by it. (p. 26)
Saul Maloff, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1974 by The New Republic, Inc.), December 7, 1974.
Manual Labor begins dramatically. A never-to-be born infant "thinks"… [and although] his words are supernatural, they suggest the fact that [his parents], Phil and Anne Sorenson, are driven to confront the meaning of infant mortality, their disjointed marriage, and the mysteries of life and art.
The novel is patterned carefully. After the infant thinks of events which he has not witnessed, he surrenders as it were, to Anne's "letter." This letter is an attempt to expiate her guilt, to shore up her existence. She writes rapidly, madly, and painfully. Her sentences "drown" her, but she manages to recognize some reasons for her contradictions and mistakes. She begins to understand the need for patterns (even if they distort reality) and word-play….
Phil writes the next section. He is more professional; he tells himself that "I'm sure that narrative leads to sanity, and slowly, carefully, chiseling the details, I must make what's happening come from what's happened; that will tell me what's to come. I have to organize, pull it into lines, directions. I will not go mad. Anne won't go mad. We'll survive." Although he writes painstakingly, unlike Anne, he is unsure of his complete power (artistic, masculine, spiritual). He is also haunted by the ghosts of family life.
Phil works steadily. His manual labor symbolizes his artistic endeavor. (The novel is about various marriages.) When he is unable to construct correct patterns, he is uneasy. He is afraid, unlike Anne, to court madness and sleep….
Phil writes about the "triangle." (Actually there is a more complex geometrical figure in the novel.) He realizes that he is "tangled in the lines," that life wrenches art out of shape (and vice versa). He continues at his labor, knowing as did Anne earlier, that words are somehow "corpses": "I will not lie again, not this way. No more lousy poems, no more still-born narratives: I'll do whatever I do, and then it will be done, and I'll be through."
There is great irony. Phil stops writing at last…. When he finally does, he confronts silences, eternal questions. He learns that "life" is as empty as the blank page; it must be "constructed" to hold meaning.
We do not see Phil returning to his task—unless the entire novel is his?—but we read the words of his dead infant. We are back at the beginning; we have completed, however, a significant cycle. The last words (within the infant's narrative) are "We'll live." They are spoken by Anne. There is no gloss upon them; they are empty and strangely hopeful….
Manual Labor is a novel about marriage—it affirms the tense vitality of relationships and, by doing so, it exorcises past ghosts. It is, at the same time, a remarkable union of philosophy and manual labor. It is, therefore, an artistic design. (p. 87)
Irving Malin, in Commonweal (copyright © 1975 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), April 25, 1975.