Bausch, Richard 1945- (Richard Carl Bausch)

views updated

Bausch, Richard 1945- (Richard Carl Bausch)


Born April 18, 1945, in Fort Benning, GA; son of Robert Carl and Helen Bausch; married Karen Miller (a photographer), May 3, 1969; children: Wesley, Emily, Paul, Maggie, Amanda. Education: George Mason University, B.A., 1973; University of Iowa, M.F. A., 1975; also attended Northern Virginia Community College. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Singing and songwriting.


Office—Department of English, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152. Agent—Harriet Wasserman, Russell & Volkening, Inc., 551 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10017.


Worked as singer-songwriter and comedian. George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, former professor of English and Heritage chair of creative writing, beginning 1980; University of Memphis, TN, professor of English and Lillian and Morrie A. Moss Chair of Excellence. Visiting professor at University of Virginia—Charlottesville, 1985, 1988, and Wesleyan University, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1993. Military service: U.S. Air Force, survival instructor, 1966-69.


Associated Writing Programs.


PEN/Faulkner Award nominations, 1982, for Take Me Back, and 1988, for Spirits and Other Stories; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1982; Guggenheim fellowship, 1984; Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Best Writer's Award, Lila Wallace Fund, 1992; American Academy of Arts and Letters, Academy Award in Literature, 1993; PEN/Malamud Award for The Stories of Richard Bausch, 2004.



Real Presence, Dial (New York, NY), 1980.

Take Me Back, Dial (New York, NY), 1981.

The Last Good Time, Dial (New York, NY), 1984.

Mr. Field's Daughter, Linden Press/Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.

Violence, Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence (Boston, MA), 1992.

Rebel Powers, Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence (Boston, MA), 1993.

Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.

In the Night Season: A Novel, HarperFlamingo (New York, NY), 1998.

(Editor) The Cry of an Occasion: Fiction from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 2001.

Hello to the Cannibals, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

Wives and Lovers: Three Short Novels, Perennial (New York, NY), 2004.

Thanksgiving Night: A Novel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.

(Editor, with R.V. Cassill) The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, 7th edition, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.


Spirits and Other Stories, Linden Press/Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1987.

The Fireman's Wife and Other Stories, Linden Press (New York, NY), 1990.

Rare & Endangered Species (novella and stories), Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence (Boston, MA), 1994.

The Selected Stories of Richard Bausch, Random House (New York, NY), 1996.

Someone to Watch Over Me: Stories, HarperFlamingo (New York, NY), 1999.

The Stories of Richard Bausch, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of short stories to various periodicals, including Harper's, Ploughshares, Esquire, Atlantic, and the New Yorker. Work represented in anthologies, including O'Henry Prize Stories and Best American Short Stories.


The Last Good Time was adapted for a feature film, 1994; "The Man Who Knew Belle Star" was adapted for a movie short, 2001; "Two Altercations" was adapted for a film, 2002.


"My vital subjects are family, fear, love, and anything that is irrecoverable and missed," Richard Bausch once told CA, "but I'll dispense with all of that for a good story…. I grew up listening to my father tell stories—he is a great story-teller, and all the Bauschs can do it." Bausch added that he has no literary creed: "My only criterion is that fiction make feeling, that it deepen feeling. If it doesn't do that it's not fiction." Bausch's works are true to his self-description: dealing with the ordinary tragedies of American family life in our time, they spring from feeling and, at their best, create it.

Bausch's first novel, Real Presence, examines the crisis of faith of an aging priest, Monsignor Vincent Shepherd. Bitter, withdrawn, recovering from a heart attack, Shepherd is assigned to a West Virginia parish whose beloved previous priest is a hard act to follow. He is shaken from his doldrums by the arrival of a down-and-out family, the Bexleys, which includes the terminally ill war veteran and ex-convict, Duck, and his wife, Elizabeth, who is pregnant with her sixth child. The Bexleys test Shepherd's ability to live up to his symbolic surname, and Elizabeth succeeds in reaching him. After Duck is killed, and while Elizabeth is in labor, Shepherd declares his desire to leave the priesthood and replace Duck as the surviving Bexleys' father figure. In an America review, Thomas M. Gannon criticized the novel's ending, saying: "The abrupt disregard for the emotional and physical limitations the author has previously imposed on this character is a serious defect in Bausch's otherwise careful effort." Scott Spencer, however, reviewing the novel for the New York Times Book Review, called the ending "moving and even satisfying" but also "a foregone conclusion." Other reviewers praised Bausch's first effort, including Washington Post Book World's Doris Grum- bach, who found Real Presence distinguished by "its distance from the customary first novel subjects." A Critic reviewer called it "excellently crafted," and Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Dick Roraback found it an "exquisite, excruciating novel" and concluded: "Bausch has written a book that disturbs; sometimes it is good to be disturbed."

Bausch wrote his second novel, Take Me Back, in four months of fifteen-hour days. Set in a low-rent area of Virginia, the novel dissects the lives of Gordon Brinhart, an unsuccessful and hard-drinking insurance salesman, his wife Katherine, a former rock musician, and Katherine's illegitimate son Alex, as well as a neighboring family which includes Amy, a thirteen-year-old who is dying of leukemia. Gordon goes on a binge, loses his job, and sleeps with a seventeen-year-old neighbor; in response Katherine attempts suicide, and Alex witnesses it all. "Telling the story skillfully from the alternating points of view of the three members of the [Brinhart] family, Bausch has us suffer through the whole ordeal right along with them," wrote Bruce Cook in Washington Post Book World. Cook added: "Take Me Back isn't pretty. It is, however, as well written as any novel I have read in a while…. Richard Bausch has captured something essential in the quality of American life today in these pages." New York Times Book Review contributor Richard P. Brickner gave a nod to the novel's "uncanny skillfulness in dialogue and atmosphere" but objected to its "smallness of vision," finding in it "no evident conviction beyond the glum one that life stinks."

Bausch's third novel, The Last Good Time, was again the product of mere months of work. It is about two men, seventy-five-year-old Edward Cakes and eighty-nine-year-old Arthur Hagood, into whose lives the twenty-four-year-old Mary Virginia Bellini arrives by chance. Mary makes love to Edward in exchange for friendship and material support; meanwhile Arthur, bedridden in a hospital and learning of the events through Edward's visits, is jealous. On Mary's departure, Edward takes up with Ida Warren, the elderly woman upstairs whose phonograph records have been keeping him awake. "Bausch makes them all believable," wrote Art Seidenbaum in the Los Angeles Times. "These are little people at work here … what stamps them as human is the novelist's gift of character." In the Washington Post Book World, Stephen Dobyns had high praise for Bausch's style, and despite "shortcomings" of plot, structure, and character believability, called The Last Good Time "quite a good novel." New York Times Book Review critic Nancy Forbes called particular attention to the way Bausch's narrative relates the elderly's experience of time, and remarked that the book "has a way of being superlatively funny and disturbing by turns, but the experience that emerges most strongly is that of spending an interesting time getting to know the sort of people whose lives we take for granted."

While strengthening his reputation as a novelist, Bausch also wrote numerous short stories. His 1987 collection, Spirits and Other Stories, won considerable critical praise. Michael Dorris, in the Washington Post Book World, called Bausch "a master of the short story," while Madison Smartt Bell, in the New York Times Book Review, termed the book a "thoughtful, honest collection" and remarked upon the absence of "superfluous stylistic flash." Thomas Cahill, writing in Commonweal, praised the stories' narrative magnetism and the author's ability to imagine his characters in all their details, and asserted: "It is my deep, perverse suspicion that, when I am an old man … all of Bausch … will be in print, and names like Updike, Roth, Bellow will have faded from view."

In Mr. Field's Daughter, Bausch's next novel, James Field, a sixty-something widower and loan officer, leads a household that includes his widowed sister Ellen, his daughter Annie, and Annie's daughter Linda. Linda's father, the cocaine-snorting Cole Gilbertson, soon arrives, wielding a .22 pistol. Opting for realistic drama rather than melodrama, Bausch fashioned from these familiar narrative ingredients and from the conventional thoughts of his characters a work that Jonathan Yardley, writing in the Washington Post Book World, called "exceptionally mature and satisfying" as well as "original and immensely affecting." "Strong characters sustain a family story line as a gifted novelist mines the universal in a pit of the mundane," summarized Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Seidenbaum. Gene Lyons, in the New York Times Book Review, called Bausch "an author of rare and penetrating gifts, working at the height of his powers."

Bausch published a second short-story collection, The Fireman's Wife and Other Stories, in 1990. Bette Pesetsky noted in the New York Times Book Review that the stories "are all about relationships; they are all about redemption through understanding," and asserted: "We are fortunate to have [The Fireman's Wife] with which to explore and search for the meaning of how we live today." Los Angeles Times critic Richard Eder found "Consolation," in which a young widow takes her baby to visit her dead husband's parents, the best story in The Fireman's Wife, "subtle and moving—with a fine comic turn by the widow's bossy and self-centered sister—even if the warmth at the end is a shade overinsistent."

Violence, Bausch's 1992 novel, continued the author's tradition of dealing realistically with the troubles of ordinary Americans. Charles Connally, in the grip of an emotional crisis, wanders into a Chicago convenience store where a robbery is taking place, saves the life of a woman, and is treated as a hero by the press. In the aftermath, he succumbs to depression, dropping out of college and questioning his marriage to dental hygienist Carol. "This is a sad and daring book," Carolyn See commented in the Washington Post Book World. New York Times Book Review contributor Susan Kenney called the novel "masterly" for Bausch's realistic exploration of "both the public and private manifestations of violence with persistence as well as sensitivity. And he does so with a redeeming grace of language and detail that goes beyond mere witnessing, straight to the heart."

Rebel Powers, drew mixed comments from reviewers. Tribune Books contributor Joseph Coates started his assessment of the novel by calling Bausch "one of our most talented writers," yet went on to say that this book "never engages its subject and amounts to one long denouement that fizzles out in anticlimax," because it is wholly concerned with a woman's refusal to face her emotions. That main character, Connie, defies her father by marrying Daniel Boudreaux, an Air Force daredevil who dreams of getting rich from Alaskan oil. His tour of duty in Vietnam robs him of the reckless bravery that attracted Connie to him, however, and their marriage deteriorates into violent fighting. Their son, Thomas, narrates the tale. Although Coates rated the book a failed effort, Elizabeth Tallent was much more positive in her assessment, writing in the New York Times Book Review: "As a narrator, Thomas is willing to qualify his perceptions, to admit incomprehension, to examine and even reverse his judgments. Indeed, the originality of Mr. Bausch's novel lies in its unapologetic devotion to the process of perception. Obsession usually censors the peripheral, but Thomas's intense concentration on the unraveling of his family is richly generous and accommodating. There are savage rages here, and great loss, but grievance, irritation, foolishness and the range of little daily miseries occupy psychic space in a way that is common in real life but rare in fiction."

In Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea, Bausch treats the details of daily life with his usual style and also explores the socio-political issues of the early 1960s. The story revolves around Walter, who is nineteen years old in 1964. Sweet, devoutly Catholic, and idealistic, Walter is devastated by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, participates in civil rights sit-ins, and generally has his consciousness raised throughout the course of the book. According to Publishers Weekly critic Sybil S. Steinberg, "Bausch is a wily and subtle writer," and "Walter's slide from idealism to disillusionment is revealed through brilliant passages of mundane (but revealing) conversations, hilarious comic moments and characters' poignant attempts to communicate with one another." "Mr. Busch spins this intricate and delicious story with a wondrously tender touch," reported Richard Bernstein in the New York Times. "There is an intermingling of the comic and the dangerous in the qualities and foibles of his characters, well-formed, resistant to simplification, stubbornly individualistic…. Walter exists on that narrow patch of ground in American history between reverence and disillusionment." Booklist contributor Donna Seaman stated of Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea: "Bausch's brilliant dialogue, quicksilver comedy, and perception into the nature of innocence give this vivacious novel a George Cukorlike dazzle, and you can't get much better than that."

Seaman also applauded the collection The Selected Stories of Richard Bausch, declaring that in it, the "ever-inventive" author "presents fresh takes on his favorite theme, the failure to communicate. His complex and troubled characters talk at cross-purposes and misinterpret one another, often to rather painful or violent ends." Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Paul R. Lilly, Jr., summarized Bausch's themes in this way: "Bausch's concerns are moral; his subject matter is the self in conflict with the need to discover or invent a better version of itself and a need to hold on to a haunted, often unhappy past. Bausch's stories probe this tension between self and selfishness in the form of tormented sons whose fathers have been alcoholic or violent, wives who repress their anger at husbands who fail to do the right thing, and daughters who are crippled by the memory of their parents' silent combats of will."

Bausch's In the Night Season: A Novel is the story of Nora Michaelson, who is left destitute with her son Jason after her husband Jack is killed in a bus accident. Her African American neighbor Edward Bishop helps Nora each afternoon by checking in on Jason but he later receives a series of threatening hate letters warning him to stay away from the white Michaelsons. Bishop is later murdered and slowly Jack Michaelson's secret past is revealed. Bausch's "subject this time is not disillusionment," argued A.O. Scott in the New York Times Book Review, "but terror, not the loss of innocence but its harassment by gratuitous and unchecked evil." Critical reaction to the novel was mixed. Scott felt that there was nothing in the novel that a "competent committee of screenwriters couldn't have come up with. From a novelist as skilled, as insightful and as original as Richard Bausch we are entitled to expect more." Other reviewers offered a different reaction. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Bausch "a writer who thrills and moves us at once." "With his powerful style and penetrating sense of character, Bausch keeps us hooked even through stretches of almost excruciating tension and sporadic violence that some readers may find excessive," said Pam Lambert in People.

"Confused relations and the panic of loss suffuse the tales in Bausch's stunning fifth collection of short fiction," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer of Someone to Watch Over Me: Stories. The collection is "primarily concerned with communication between loved ones, when it works and especially when it fails," summarized Donna Seaman in Booklist. Critics received the collection enthusiastically. David W. Henderson, reviewing the work in Library Journal, called it a "rewarding read for those who appreciate good as opposed to flamboyant writing." "Bausch has a keen ear for the back-and-forthness of the dialogues of love and he brings as much compassion as talent to his shining stories," argued Seaman.

Bausch charted new literary ground for himself with the 2002 novel, Hello to the Cannibals, a work featuring two independent-minded women separated by a century in time. The modern-day protagonist, Lily, is beset by familial and marital woes; she has also become fascinated with the life of the nineteenth-century British explorer and writer Mary Kingsley, about whom she begins to write a play. The novel is then told from both viewpoints via the dramatic piece Lily fashions. For Booklist contributor Seaman, Hello to the Cannibals was both "radiant and transporting," and Bausch's "most ambitious, compulsively readable, and deeply pleasurable novel to date." Other reviewers also had praise for the work. A Kirkus Reviews critic called it "expansive," and Bausch's "most interesting [novel] thus far." Similarly, New York Times contributor Janet Burroway found the same work "ambitious not only in its historical and geographical sweep but also in its author's choice to confine himself, with admirable conviction and credibility, to the consciousness of two women."

With his 2004 comprehensive collection, The Stories of Richard Bausch, the author won the prestigious PEN/Malamud Award. This gathering of "42 indelible tales" as Booklist writer Seaman termed the book, presents Bausch at his best, in "electrifying" stories that are "notable for their structural perfection, convincing physicality, and psychological depth." Similar praise came from Entertainment Weekly contributor Emily Mead, who felt the collection "solidifies Bausch's rep as a master of compact, closely observed vignettes." A Kirkus Reviews critic joined the chorus of acclaim, concluding: "This is the book for which Bausch will be remembered."

Another publication from 2004 bridges the gap between short story and novel. Wives and Lovers: Three Short Novels, like Bausch's novels and short stories, "probes the tensions that seethe in families and marriages," according to a Kirkus Reviews critic. Two of the novellas, Spirits and Rare & Endangered Species, were previously published as the title pieces of story collections, while Requisite Kindness, previously unpublished, features a man who is taking care of his dying mother and looks back on the domestic failures of his life. The Kirkus Reviews critic felt the novellas displayed "a bleak vision, tempered by sensitive affection for human beings in all their frailty." Nicholas Fonseca, reviewing the collection in Entertainment Weekly, was also impressed, terming the tales "fascinating" and "undeniably moving." A Publishers Weekly contributor also had praise for the volume, noting, "Bausch strikes another blow against sloppy, maudlin sentimentality with this slim gathering of three razor-sharp novellas." Annette Gallagher Weisman, writing in People, found the novellas "haunting and beautifully crafted."

Bausch's 2006 work, Thanksgiving Night: A Novel, is set in a small Virginia town on the last Thanksgiving of the twentieth century. The book features "several incomplete and varyingly dysfunctional … families," as a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted, whose varying interactions "produce both sparks of contention and seeds of potential growth and change." The same reviewer called the novel "amiable." Melissa Rose Bernardo, writing in Entertainment Weekly, felt that Bausch, with plots involving "kooky relatives, drunken antics, and near-death experiences," had enough material for several volumes. A Publishers Weekly critic had a mixed assessment of Thanksgiving Night, observing that the author "engages stock characters and a predictable theme of holiday forgiveness this time out, but he injects some crackle into the heartwarming elements." Higher praise came from Library Journal contributor Beth E. Andersen, who concluded: "Bausch elevates familial squabbling to an art form."

Speaking with Art Taylor of the Carolina Quarterly, Bausch delineated the overall perspective and thematic direction of his work: "I'm the crying on the inside kind of clown, I guess. Actually, I write about individual people—and to do so with any truthfulness, it seems to me, is always going to lead to some sort of element of the remorseless facts of individual fate. I think Chekhov, along with being far better than I, is also quite consistently ‘dark’ in his best stories. To me, it isn't a question of darkness so much as it's a matter of faithfulness to the felt life. Fiction is about trouble, and I suppose my interest is in how people contend with troubles that don't go away or dissolve very easily."



Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 14, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 51, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 130: American Short-Story Writers since World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.


America, August 23, 1980, Thomas M. Gannon, review of Real Presence, pp. 77-78.

Booklist, August, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea and The Selected Stories of Richard Bausch, p. 1880; May 15, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Someone to Watch Over Me: Stories, p. 1666; October 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Hello to the Cannibals, p. 300; November 15, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of The Stories of Richard Bausch, p. 547.

Carolina Quarterly, winter, 2005, Art Taylor, "An Interview with Richard Bausch," p. 69.

Commonweal, October 9, 1987, Thomas Cahill, review of Spirits and Other Stories, pp. 568-569.

Critic, September, 1980, review of Real Presence, p. 8.

Entertainment Weekly, October 31, 2003, Emily Mead, review of The Stories of Richard Bausch, p. 77; July 16, 2004, Nicholas Fonseca, review of Wives and Lovers: Three Short Novels, p. 83; October 6, 2006, Melissa Rose Bernardo, review of Thanksgiving Night: A Novel, p. 74.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of Hello to the Cannibals, p. 1331; September 15, 2003, review of The Stories of Richard Bausch, p. 1138; May 1, 2004, review of Wives and Lovers, p. 407; August 1, 2006, review of Thanksgiving Night, p. 736.

Library Journal, June 1, 1999, David W. Henderson, review of Someone to Watch Over Me, p. 180; August 1, 2006, Beth E. Andersen, review of Thanksgiving Night, p. 66.

Los Angeles Times, August 20, 1980, review of Real Presence; November 9, 1984, Art Seidenbaum, review of The Last Good Time; August 16, 1990, Richard Eder, review of The Fireman's Wife and Other Stories.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 20, 1980, Dick Roraback, review of Real Presence; May 7, 1989, Art Seidenbaum, review of Mr. Field's Daughter.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Milwaukee, WI), October 26, 2006, Carol Deptolla, review of Thanksgiving Night.

New York Times, September 25, 1996, Richard Bernstein, review of Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea, p. C15; September 8, 2002, Janet Burroway, "In Mary's Footsteps," review of Hello to the Cannibals.

New York Times Book Review, September 7, 1980, Scott Spencer, review of Real Presence, pp. 13, 38; April 26, 1981, Richard P. Brickner, review of Take Me Back, p. 14; December 23, 1984, Nancy Forbes, review of The Last Good Time, p. 25; April 26, 1987, Madison Smartt Bell, review of Spirits and Other Stories, p. 16; August 27, 1989, Gene Lyons, review of Mr. Field's Daughter, p. 14; August 19, 1990, Bette Pesetsky, review of The Fireman's Wife and Other Stories, p. 9; January 26, 1992, Susan Kenney, review of Violence, p. 7; May 16, 1993, Elizabeth Tallent, review of Rebel Powers, p. 9; June 7, 1998, A.O. Scott, review of In the Night Season: A Novel.

People, June 1, 1998, Pam Lambert, review of In the Night Season, p. 41; August 16, 2004, Annette Gallagher Weisman, review of Wives and Lovers, p. 52.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 27, 2002, Sharon Dilworth, review of Hello to the Cannibals.

Publishers Weekly, July 15, 1996, Sybil S. Steinberg, review of Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea, pp. 52-53; March 23, 1998, review of In the Night Season, p. 75; April 19, 1999, review of Someone to Watch Over Me, p. 57; May 24, 2004, review of Wives and Lovers, p. 41; August 7, 2006, review of Thanksgiving Night, p. 29.

Time, September 22, 1980, review of Real Presence, p. E4.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 11, 1993, Joseph Coates, review of Rebel Powers, p. 6.

Washington Post Book World, June 15, 1980, Doris Grumbach, review of Real Presence, p. 4; May 3, 1981, Bruce Cook, review of Take Me Back, p. 5; December 11, 1984, Stephen Dobyns, review of The Last Good Time; June 28, 1987, Michael Dorris, review of Spirits and Other Stories, p. 6; April 30, 1989, Jonathan Yardley, review of Mr. Field's Daughter, p. 3; December 29, 1991, Carolyn See, review of Violence.


Curled Up with a Good Book, (December 18, 2006), review of The Stories of Richard Bausch.

Internet Movie Database, (December 18, 2006), "Richard Bausch."

University of Memphis, Department of English Web site, (December 18, 2006), "Richard Bausch."

Washington Post Online, (November 20, 2003), "Off the Page: Richard Bausch."