ABSENT FRIENDS by Frederick Busch


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From the prolific Busch (Domestic Particulars, Invisible Mending, Too Late American Boyhood Blues, etc.), 14 sometimes touching but as often overreached stories. As if straining for purpose or occasion, Busch takes up situations that frequently have a putatively topical or readied drama about them--a mother has been taken hostage in Lebanon, and her family back home moodily watches her on TV ("Reruns"); a white man is disowned by his emotionally constrained parents after he marries a black woman ("From the New World"); an about-to-be-divorced couple visits one of their parents, a victim of Alzheimer's disease who recognizes neither of them ("Comrades"). A sense of falsely heightened drama pervades the TV-like "Dog Song," with its busily kaleidoscopic overlays of degeneracy, hospitals, and car accidents (a well-off judge, unhappy in marriage, may or may not have attempted suicide by automobile), as it does the time-fractured "Gravity" (in exterior time, a basketball game is being played; in interior time, a woman grieves for the death of her adoptive father). Busch's skill and sensitivity can bring about the simple ring of true gold, as in the best piece here ("Naked"), in which a 13-year-old boy in Brooklyn learns unsettling truths about his parents' past when a close friend (called Uncle Rudy) divorces his wife to marry a younger woman. Almost as true is "To the Hoop" (a teen-aged boy's depression after his mother's suicide), but it and others veer into the robustly mannered, melodramatic, or conscientiously routine--"Greetings from a Farflung Place" (a female singer is a has-been at 41); "In Foreign Tongues" (lonely New Yorkers, long in group therapy, meet for a ritualized dinner and talk); or "Ralph the Duck" (a hard-boiled but all-good man--who works as night watchman at a pretentious college--is haunted, though the reader doesn't know about it until it's sprung at the end, by the memory of a daughter who died young). In all, glimmers of real ore peek out amid the standard in stories that often feel self-consciously willed into being.

Pub Date: April 8th, 1989
ISBN: 394-57426-5
Publisher: Knopf
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