Frederick Busch Busch, Frederick (Vol. 18) - Essay


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.)

Paula Deitz

[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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Peter Kemp

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.∗

Anatole Broyard

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).

Doris Grumbach

[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.

Robert Kiely

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.

Amy Wilentz

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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Robert Buffington

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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Frances Taliaferro

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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Judith Gies

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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Allen Peacock

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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Keith Monley

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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