The Writer as Soldier

December 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

What to know about pain is how little we do to deserve it, how simple it is to give, how hard to lose. I’m a plumber. I dig for what’s wrong. I should know. (“Widow Water”)

So glad am I to see the late Frederick Busch’s short fiction collected into one volume for the first time, and I am just as glad that Katie Arnold-Ratliff’s review in this week’s New York Times Book Review turns the back-handed praise Busch has received as a master of minimalism and acolyte of Carver on its side:

Consider, once more, the writer as a soldier. Because Busch’s work dealt in covert ops, its unshowy aptitude saddled him with yet another label: “writer’s writer.” These stories are taught in M.F.A. programs because Busch’s fellow professionals appreciate prose that manages to be both moving and restrained, and they understand the risk involved in asking a reader to wring meaning from scant suggestion. Busch’s narratives provide the raw material, leaving the conclusions to us. Which makes you wonder if “minimalist” is just code for an author who trusts his audience more than most, just as “writer’s writer” simply means that not enough people have read him.

I fell in love with Busch’s writing when I read Girls, where he managed to turn a dopey old dog into a lovable supporting character playing off a depressed campus security cop in a strained marriage. Read the stories “Extra Extra Large,” “Berceuse” and the aforementioned “Widow Water.” Then go out and read Girls, Sometimes I Live in the Country, and Too Late American Boyhood Blues.

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