Long Way from Home (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Long Way from Home takes its title from a nineteenth century spiritual, made popular in the 1960’s by Peter, Paul and Mary, about a person who sometimes feels “like a motherless child.” Motherless children and being a long way from home are important motifs in this novel whose point of departure is the 1960’s, the decade when two of its major characters are born and three others make significant choices that will affect the rest of their lives. In most respects, however, Long Way from Home is a novel of and for the 1980’s and 1990’s, especially in Frederick Busch’s choice of subjects:
adoption, abortion, child abuse, dysfunctional families, parenting, career women, job dissatisfaction, American public education, individual (as distinct from civil) rights, the kidnapping of children by family members. The list is long enough for at least a week’s worth of Oprah Winfreys, Phil Donahues, and Sally Jessy Raphaels but perhaps a bit too trendy, too much the stuff of talk shows and pop psychology. Flirting with the merely topical is but one of several risks Busch ran in writing Long Way from Home. Another is making a novel from what was originally a twenty-page short story. (John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” is an excellent example of what can be achieved when a writer works in the opposite direction, toward compression rather than, as in Busch’s case, expansion.) Yet perhaps the greatest risk was in writing, or at...
(The entire section is 1999 words.)
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Long Way from Home (Magill Book Reviews)
Frederick Busch took a number of risks in writing LONG WAY FROMHOME, his sixteenth book of fiction. One was in writing anythingat all after the entirely deserved critical success of his lastnovel, CLOSING ARGUMENTS (1991); as F. Scott Fitzgerald once noted,there are no second acts in American literature. Busch tookanother risk in developing his novel from a short story, and doingso at another’s, rather than his own, “insistence.” Riskiest ofall may have been the decision to write about subjects betterfitted to the requirements of an Oprah Winfrey or a Phil Donahuethan the Fairchild Professor of Literature at Colgate Universityand winner of the 1991 PEN/Malamud award for distinguished shortfiction: child abuse, adoption and its aftermath, dysfunctionalfamilies, sadomasochism, adultery, alcoholism, midlife crisis.
The risks very nearly prove too great. Once again Busch doesan excellent job interesting the reader in life in a small upstateNew York town, but he is less successful in making his charactersequally interesting, in making the reader care why Sarah wouldabandon her husband and six year-old son in order to meet themother who abandoned her at birth and whom she has located througha newspaper ad; or why Barrett would dump their son with Sarah’sparents and drive to Santa Fe, where he wrongly figures Sarah isheading; or why Gloria Dodge is so determined to find her daughter.Little Stevie seems alternately too old or too young for his ageand...
(The entire section is 426 words.)