Frederick Busch Busch, Frederick (Vol. 166) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Frederick Busch and Miriam Berkley (interview date 30 March 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

William H. Pritchard (review date winter 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

John Blades (review date 8 February 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Frederick Busch and Donald J. Greiner (interview date summer 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

George Garrett (review date summer 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Richard Eder (review date 28 May 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Fred Shafer (review date 19 November 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Richard Eder (review date 25 February 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Tom Wilhelmus (review date spring 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Thomas D'Evelyn (review date 25 April 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Donald J. Greiner (essay date autumn 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Greg Johnson (review date summer 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Diane Fortuna (review date 1 February 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Irving Malin (review date spring 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Richard Eder (review date 16 May 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Bruce Allen (review date 13 March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Patrick McGrath (review date 20 March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Glen Scott Allen (review date spring 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Paul Hanstedt (review date winter 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Richard Eder (review date 16 March 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Antonya Nelson (review date 16 March 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Frederick Busch and Charlotte Zoë Walker (interview date March 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Sanford Pinsker (review date spring 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Michael Frank (review date 30 May 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Thomas Hove (review date fall 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Dean Flower (review date winter 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Publishers Weekly (review date 21 August 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

David Guy (review date 12 November 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


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.)