The Night Inspector by Frederick Busch

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The Night Inspector

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Near the end of Frederick Busch’s compelling novel The Night Inspector, Herman Melville, once a popular novelist but now, in 1867, a customs inspector—the “night inspector”—asserts, “How else might we tell the world our terrible thoughts except through these masks?” And indeed the issue of masks is central, not only to Melville’s opus, but also to this tale, starting with its narrator, William Bartholomew, a veteran of the Civil War whose face was so hideously destroyed in the last days of the war that he wears a pasteboard mask. Formerly a sniper in the war, Bartholomew has become an investor in New York City, and he, like Melville and numerous other characters in the book, conceal their secret lives behind both literal and figurative masks.

Bartholomew and Melville conspire with Jessie, a Creole prostitute whose hidden life is also rich with complexities,...

(The entire section is 293 words.)