Don't Tell Anyone

Frederick Busch, Author W. W. Norton & Company $25.95 (309p) ISBN 978-0-393-04973-2
Because his writing is masterly and his perceptions dazzling and true, it's exhilarating to encounter each of the 16 stories and one novella in Busch's (The Night Inspector) new collection. All of them resonate with incisive observations about the burdens of love and connectedness, and the inevitability of betrayal and disillusion. In every story, the dialogue is brisk, funny and tender, sometimes improbably whip-smart but always insistently voiced. Busch's prose is restrained yet poignant, and he hooks readers with arresting opening sentences (""Did I tell you she was raped?""; ""I loved his mother once""), and delivers heartbreak with closing lines (""Often, of course, there are no bells""). There are no vague, drifting conclusions here; a strong, affecting denouement closes each tale. The narratives are set mainly in small communities in upstate New York, but also in Brooklyn, Maine and Seattle, and the protagonists come from a range of social and economic backgrounds. Most are stories of betrayalDdeliberate or inadvertentDbut in Busch's world of fallible human beings inevitable. In some tales, there is cautious hope. The grieving widower in ""Malvasia"" is inspired by his daughter to resume his life. ""Still the Same Old Story"" is a devastating chronicle of marital cruelty and the effect on a teenaged daughter. A heartbroken husband and father in ""The Joy of Cooking"" bakes a cake as his wife packs her bags to leave. In ""The Talking Cure,"" a teenager's mentor (and his mother's lover) is intrusively didactic, but it's his gentle father who really teaches him about life. Memorable as these characters are, they pale next to the central figure in the title novella, set during the Vietnam era. Willie Bernstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, is teaching in a small upstate New York college and experiencing anti-Semitism, hate-filled conservative ideology, a passionate love affair with a woman married to a deranged Vietnam vet, and the breakup of his parents' marriage. As in the other stories here, it is an examination of the secret, interior life lived on many levels. Considering both his parents' problems and his own, Willie comes to understand that love does not make the loved one knowable. Busch's eye and ear are remarkable, and he charts the path of human vulnerability with a sure and steady tread. 6-city author tour. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-345-44393-9
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