WAR BABIES by Frederick Busch
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WAR BABIES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Busch's 13th work of fiction (which first appeared in the Gettysburg Review in 1988) certainly ranks among his best: an elegantly written and modest homage to Thomas Hardy that perfectly captures the strained Anglo-American relations between two lovers--whose shared era of conception is invoked by the title. The dilemma for Busch's ""war babies"" is simple: their fathers were more or less enemies during the Korean War. In fact, the father of American Peter Santore, whose narrative this is, might have caused the death of the father of Hilary Pennels, the caustic and clever young Englishwoman who lives under the shadow of her heroic dad, a British officer who sacrificed his life for his men in a North Korean detention camp. Santore's father betrayed his fellow prisoners by cooperating with his vicious captors, and was convicted of treason upon his return stateside. At present, in 1984, Santore fils, a successful young criminal lawyer, travels to England ostensibly in search of further information about his cowardly old man, but really seeking some kind of forgiveness. What he finds is the captivating Hilary--a lusty and handsome book-dealer who almost consumes him sexually. Hovering over this fast and furious romance is the elderly Fox, who served under Hilary's father and survived imprisonment in the camp. Devoted to the Pennels family, the morbid Fox is Hilary's self-appointed guardian. Brutally frank, especially when he's in his cups, Fox remembers Santore p‚re as ""a slimy, treacherous, insufferable bastard."" Just when the reticent Peter begins to exult in his surprising new love, Fox visits the sins of the father on the son--and Hilary turns her biting wit against her naive lover, who undergoes camplike torture in his mind. Busch brilliantly re-creates not only Hilary's scintillating loquaciousness, but also her talents as a mimic, especially of American matinee idols. A masterly novella that--at 128 pages--reveals the shared fate of victim and victimizer, a dialectic of desire and betrayal, of absolution and retribution.

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 1989
ISBN: 0811211037
Publisher: New Directions