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by Frederick Busch ; edited by Elizabeth Strout

Pub Date: Dec. 2nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-393-23954-6
Publisher: Norton

Sterling collection of short fiction by a late master (1941-2006) of the short story form.

Busch (Rescue Missions, 2006, etc.) has been gone for several years, but he continues to exercise an outsize influence on writers-in-training, enshrined as he is in the creative-writing syllabus. That is for good reason, for if Busch’s short fiction concentrates on the quotidian workaday world, it is not with the dourness of Raymond Carver or the bibulousness of Charles Bukowski. Busch announces his stories with attention-getting first lines that demand explanation: “I woke up at 5:25 because the dog was vomiting.” “What we know about pain is how little we do to deserve it, how simple it is to give, how hard to lose.” “The morning after I drove to his newest town, I met my father for breakfast.” His characters are plumbers (“I dig for what’s wrong”), ward nurses (“[t]he worst became the orderly who brought in a plate of mashed potatoes and open hot roast-beef sandwich in glutinous gravy”), outdoorsmen (“[i]t’s an old Boy Scout trick”), often living in forgotten small towns that have yet to get Internet service. A typical Busch story finds the central character not quite sure of his (rarely, her) place in the world and with some change in the works, sometimes wanted and sometimes not: “I was nine years old and starting to age.” It’s not a cheery world that Busch inhabits (“the people downstairs were getting along as best they could in their sad, short lives”), but it’s full of meaning, and no living writer quite gets at that meaning with the same literate determination.

Well-chosen and broadly representative: an ideal introduction to Busch for those new to him and a welcome anthology for those who already know his work.