HARDWATER COUNTRY by Frederick Busch


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Busch's third collection of stories--and, though all 13 work hard and seriously, something goes a hair wrong in all but two of them. The stories about country folk are a little too determinedly focused on laconic potential, coiled too tight--a sign that Busch is not really comfortable with this material. Others start out fine enough upon their premises--a plumber restores the invisible weft of dailiness to people in sudden, sharp need; a woman's young brother-in-law arrives unexpectedly with his pregnant girlfriend (the baby is someone else's); a divorcing woman travels alone through Europe and finds herself only hooking up with morally retarded men; a young college girl learns from her mother's decorously sad affair with a married man (he has a heart condition) about responsibility and faith. But even these solid beginnings go awry, holding off a second too long; the elements aren't nudged--they end the way they began, in loose, vague relation. Two stories do combat this tendency to narrative self-anesthesia: ""My Father, Cont.""--a family drive, getting stuck in snowy woods, the small son exposed to parental limits of character that no one so young ought to have to deal with. And ""The Old Man Is Snoring"": a retiree's diary over a two-week span; he stays moderately busy, watches his diet, goes to the library, worries about appearing a pest to his children when he calls them, feels terrible loneliness. Collecting this man's spare, dignified jottings, Busch does something remarkable: halfway through, you start to hold your breath, afraid that the character will die before the next entry. Here Busch's pointillism works to superb effect--elsewhere, it's more of a blur.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1979
Publisher: Knopf