Short-story master Bausch (Someone to Watch Over Me, 1999, etc.) probes the tensions that seethe in families and marriages in three novellas, one previously unpublished.
“Requisite Kindness,” the new work, seems at first to cover the familiar territory of men who screw up and women who are tired of picking up after them, which is interesting enough, especially since Bausch’s dialogue and character insights are as cogent as ever. But the tale deepens as it moves into the head of a man tending his dying mother, exploring his fears and regrets over a failed marriage and damaged children. The mother’s passing is treated with a sad tenderness quite different from the cold finality of a suicide that drives the narrative in “Rare & Endangered Species,” deservedly well-known as the title piece in a 1994 collection. As Bausch explores the fraught lives of Andrea Brewer’s husband, children, and various people more loosely linked to her suicide, we see couples trying to reach each other across an abyss of guilt, anger, and shame: when one husband tries to stop an argument by saying “I love you,” his wife snaps, “You use that like a club.” Yet the tale expresses hope too, especially in its closing with the birth of the granddaughter Andrea will never see. “Spirits,” from a 1987 collection by the same title, also swerves to a cautiously happy ending after delving into a young English professor’s thoroughly nasty experiences while apartment-sitting for an older faculty member with a weakness for drink and vulnerable young women. At the same time, the young man’s former landlady is fundamentally unnerved by the discovery, all over the local TV news, that her ex-husband is a serial killer of little girls. “You think you understand a man’s spirit when you look in his eyes and he’s your live-in partner for three years,” she shudders—but she didn’t, and in Bausch’s world most people are strangers even to those they love best.
A bleak vision, tempered by sensitive affection for human beings in all their frailty.