Busch, Frederick 1941–2006

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BUSCH, Frederick 1941–2006


Born August 1, 1941, in Brooklyn, NY; died of a heart attack, February 23, 2006, in New York, NY; son of Benjamin (a lawyer) and Phyllis (a teacher, naturalist, and author) Busch; married Judith Burroughs (a teacher), November 29, 1963; children: Benjamin, Nicholas. Education: Muhlenberg College, A.B., 1962; Columbia University, M.A., 1967.


North American Precis Syndicate, New York, NY, editor-writer, 1964-65; Management Magazines, Greenwich, CT, editor-writer, 1965-66; Colgate University, Hamilton, NY, 1966-76, began as assistant professor, became associate professor of English, professor of English, 1976-87, Fairchild Professor of Literature, 1987-2003, professor emeritus, 2003—. Acting director, program in creative writing, University of Iowa, 1978-79; visiting lecturer, creative writing program, Columbia University, 1979.


PEN, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow), Writers Guild of America, Authors Guild of America, American Association of University Professors, Authors League of America.


Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1962-63; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1976-77; Muhlenberg College, Litt.D., 1980; Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1981-82; Ingram Merrill Foundation fellowship, 1981-82; National Jewish Book Award for Fiction, Jewish Book Council, 1986; American Academy of Arts and Letters Fiction Award, 1986; Malamud Award, PEN, 1991, for "distinguished achievement in the short story"; PEN/Faulkner Award nomination, 1995, for The Children in the Woods: New and Selected Stories; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, fiction, 1999, for The Night Inspector; PEN/Faulkner Award nomination, 2000, for The Night Inspector; Award of Merit, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2001, for lifetime achievement.



I Wanted a Year without Fall, Calder & Boyars (London, England), 1971.

Manual Labor, New Directions (New York, NY), 1974.

The Mutual Friend, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.

Rounds, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1979.

Take This Man, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1981.

Invisible Mending, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1984, revised with a new afterword by author, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1997.

Sometimes I Live in the Country, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1986.

Absent Friends, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.

War Babies, New Directions (New York, NY), 1989.

Harry and Catherine, Knopf (New York, NY), 1990.

Closing Arguments, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY),1991.

Long Way from Home, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1993.

Girls, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1997.

The Night Inspector, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1999.

A Memory of War, Norton (New York, NY), 2003.

North, Norton (New York, NY), 2005.

short story collections

Breathing Trouble and Other Stories, Calder & Boyars (London, England), 1973.

Domestic Particulars: A Family Chronicle, New Directions (New York, NY), 1976.

Hardwater Country: Stories, Knopf (New York, NY), 1979.

Too Late American Boyhood Blues: Ten Stories, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1984.

The Children in the Woods: New and Selected Stories, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1994.

Don't Tell Anyone, Norton (New York, NY), 2000.

Rescue Missions, Norton (New York, NY), 2006.


Hawkes: A Guide to His Fiction, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1973.

When People Publish: Essays on Writers and Writing, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 1986.

A Dangerous Profession: A Book about the Writing Life, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1998.

(Editor) Letters to a Fiction Writer, Norton (New York, NY), 1999.

Author of introduction to The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories, by Mark Twain, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996. Contributor to A John Hawkes Symposium: Design and Debris, edited by Anthony C. Santore and Michael Pocalyko, New Directions (New York, NY), 1977, and Twelve Shots: Outstanding Short Stories about Guns, edited by Marry Mazer, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997. Contributor of short stories and essays to Esquire, Harper's, Modern Fiction Studies, Chicago Review, Ohio Review, Mosaic, New American Review, New Yorker, New York Times, and other publications.


Frederick Busch spent more than two decades building his reputation as a writer whose works were viewed by many as consistently excellent. He was known as a novelist who focused on domestic life and the everyday hardships of ordinary characters. Busch was often praised by critics for his powerful writing style, but he never found the mass audience that many felt he deserved, being known instead as a "writer's writer." An essayist for the Dictionary of Literary Biography singled out Busch as "an artist who counts, a writer who matters to the cultural health of the nation."

In 1970, Busch sent a copy of a novel in manuscript to a Welsh writer friend named Robert Nye for comment. The book, I Wanted a Year without Fall, chronicles the misadventures of Ben and Leo, two young men fleeing from troubled pasts. Nye gave the manuscript to his publisher, Calder & Boyars, who published it in 1971. " I Wanted a Year without Fall lacks the sense of pace and, most of all, the skill with character which show to such advantage in Busch's later novels," stated the Dictionary of Literary Biography writer, "but with the mixture of violence and comedy and variations of language, it is an acceptable beginning."

Busch took what the Dictionary of Literary Biography essayist described as "a giant step forward" in 1974 with his second novel. Manual Labor "is the first of Busch's explorations of little people surviving unspectacular but numbing crises. The crisis in this instance is specific and full of dread: how can love survive when it is wracked by the deaths of children through miscarriage?" Joyce Carol Oates praised the book in the New York Times Book Review, stating: "Stylistically, it is very 'contemporary,' that is, its sentences are terse, cautious, precise, at times mildly ironic, but never do they veer into abstraction….Itisasifthe deliberately underplayed technique of the French nouveau roman were utilized for humanistic purposes, with the intention of charting not the helpless disintegration of two people but, boldly enough, their difficult, minimal survival and the subsequent strengthening of their marriage…. Busch is to be congratulated for having so beautifully combined the rigorous discipline of one kind of novel with the genuinely compelling concerns of another." John Romano in the New York Arts Journal called Manual Labor "one of the most powerful contemporary novels I know."

Domestic Particulars: A Family Chronicle, published in 1976, is in some ways a companion volume to Manual Labor, "focus[ing] upon small acts of courage amid the despair of family turmoil," reported the Dictionary of Literary Biography essayist. " Domestic Particulars is a triumph of different voices, each one individualized and sustained in a cycle of love, loss, and the heroics of hanging on…. Busch's maturation as a novelist is evident in his mastery of tone, for he shows how parents accept their gradual separation from one another even while they watch bewildered as their child suddenly separates from them." In his review of the novel for the Nation, Richard Elman called Busch "one of the very few active practitioners who can combine an astonishing use of language with a really first-rate memory; he is brilliant, imaginative, and more often than not, just."

With his next novel, The Mutual Friend, Busch ventured into uncharacteristic terrain, writing an historical novel about the British novelist Charles Dickens. The author was quoted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as calling it "the bitchiest novel to do, and I still can't be certain whether I love or hate it." Critical response reflected the author's own ambivalence about his work, but the Manchester, England's Guardian cited The Mutual Friend as one of the ten best novels published in England in 1978.

Busch returned to contemporary domestic themes in Rounds, the story of a small-town doctor struggling to cope in the wake of a failed marriage and the death of a son. Frances Taliaferro, writing in Harper's, termed Rounds a "fine, earthy, energetic novel." But Robert Buffington, in the New York Times Book Review, criticized the characters: "They all talk too much and at unrelaxed levels of cleverness and cuteness. They leave little unsaid, no verbal shot unreturned." Describing Busch's characters as individuals who face "depredations few of us, thankfully, will ever have to bear," Allen Peacock noted in the Saturday Review that "Busch insists that they survive, and it is their gradual, tentative unfolding, that intensely anguished but determined reassemblage of shattered lives, that makes for such compelling, and continually heartening, reading."

War Babies is a brief novel about an American lawyer, Peter Santore, who is troubled by his father's actions in the military during the Korean War. It seems that while a prisoner of war, Santore's father may have caused the death of another prisoner. Santore seeks out Hilary Pennels, the daughter of the dead man. He locates her in England, and the two of them begin a passionate affair. Through Hilary, Santore encounters another Korean War veteran, who has stories of wartime horrors committed by Santore's father. Santore must delve deep to try to piece together the truth of his father's experience. "With relentless intensity, the novella manifests interior revolutions with expressionistic vigor," stated a Publishers Weekly writer. Alan Tinkler, a contributor to Review of Contemporary Fiction, called War Babies one of the "notable gems" in Busch's career, showing the author "at his best."

In Closing Arguments Busch tells the story of lawyer Mark Brennan, who defends a woman accused of murder. Their sexual relationship and the woman's violence soon stirs repressed memories of Brennan's experiences during the Vietnam War. Near-hallucinatory visions begin to intrude on his daily life. "Busch has reached," a critic for Publishers Weekly claimed, "a new level of achievement with this taut and gripping novel."

" Girls marks the continuing evolution of [Busch,] a first-rate American storyteller," proclaimed Scott Spencer in the New York Times Book Review. Busch uses his "short story masterpiece … 'Ralph the Duck' as [the novel's] second chapter and engine" reported Antonya Nelson in a Chicago Tribune Books review of Girls. Jack, an upstate New York college campus policeman, is the protagonist of both works. In Girls, "Busch rendered Jack's voice and tumultuous inner life in a style that mixes the hard-boiled cadences of the detective novel with the more nuanced mode of the postmacho male confessional," according to Spencer, who praised it as a "powerful blend of genres." The novel follows Jack, whose marriage to Fanny began deteriorating after the death of their only baby a few years prior, as he searches for a fourteen year old, Janice, and her abductor. More than just a mystery, the story is an exploration of Jack's personality and the inner demons that haunt him. Numerous reviewers considered Girls an overwhelming success. The writer for Publishers Weekly, for example, described Girls as "a tour de force … told with an economical mastery and intensity that only a few current novelists can command."

In 1998, Busch published the collection of essays A Dangerous Profession: A Book about the Writing Life, which focuses on Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Franz Kafka, and others, and recounts his own experience as a novelist and critic. A PublishersWeekly critic called the collection a "valuable hybrid, which combines heartfelt memoir with an ardent love of literature." In a similar vein, Busch's Letters to a Fiction Writer, published in 1999, is a collection of letters written by writers including Janet Burroway, Andre Dubus, Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie and others. Patterned after Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, the collection also contains responses to letters from aspiring writers. A critic for Publishers Weekly found the collection "wildly uneven," though noting that a few of the letters, including Burroway's account of the role of envy in a writer's life, were exceptional.

Busch returned to fiction with the 1999 publication of The Night Inspector. The novel revolves around William Bartholomew, a disfigured Civil War veteran who enlists the help of once-famous novelist Herman Melville in a plan to bring slave children in Florida to the North. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that the novel "becomes a serious, nuanced meditation on history, redemption, commerce, conscience and literary vocation, as well as a gripping read." Booklist reviewer Lee Reilly stated: "[ The Night Inspector 's] settings are memorable; its ambitions great. But the brutality is unrelenting." John Crowley, in the New York Times Book Review, lauded: " The Night Inspector is a marvelously darkhued story by a master craftsman, and watching mastery at work provides at least a part of the pleasure of reading it." In 2000, the novel was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award.

Busch produced another "powerful" novel with A Memory of War, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The story concerns Alexander, a successful psychoanalyst in Manhattan. Despite the outward trappings of success, Alexander is becoming overwhelmed by his past. His parents fled Poland during World War II, seeking refuge from the Nazis, first in England, then the United States. As his own marriage is threatened by adultery, Alexander must also face the realization that his mother was unfaithful to his father. "While the novel's emotional landscape is bleak, Busch's portrait of a man trying to surmount his demons is masterful," commented the Publishers Weekly writer. A Kirkus Reviews commentator also found Busch's creation of Alexander's inner life well done, noting that readers will get to know him "as fully as we know any character in contemporary fiction, thanks to the wizardry of one of the great living masters of fictional technique."

North is a follow up to Girls, again featuring the security guard Jack. Having relocated to try to recover from the deaths of his wife and daughter, Jack is approached by a woman at the resort where he works. She asks him to search for her missing nephew. Jack agrees, only to find that the trail of the missing boy leads him back to upstate New York and the town of Vienna, where the events of Girls took place. The novel is a "hybrid of a somber literary novel and hard boiled detective story," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Booklist contributor Carol Haggas called North "riveting and incisive," and an "electrifying psychological thriller." Library Journal critic Rebecca Stuhr predicted that North would appeal both to the author's "longtime readers and fans of the detective novel genre."



Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 1, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 7, 1977, Volume 10, 1979, Volume 18, 1981, Volume 47, 1988.

Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 6: American Novelists since World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.

Greiner, Donald J., Domestic Particulars: The Novels of Frederick Busch, University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC), 1988.


Booklist, March 15, 1993, Brad Hooper, review of Long Way from Home, p. 1295; January 1, 1997, Nancy Pearl, review of Girls, p. 816; February 1, 1999, Lee Reilly, review of The Night Inspector, p. 940; April 15, 2005, Carol Haggas, review of North, p. 1429.

Commonweal, April 25, 1975, review of Manual Labor, p. 87.

Critique, August, 1977, review of Domestic Particulars: A Family Chronicle, pp. 101-111.

Harper's, February, 1980, Frances Taliaferro, review of Rounds.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of A Memory of War, p. 1713.

Library Journal, February 1, 1997, Lawrence Rungren, review of Girls, p. 105; October 1, 1998, Nancy R. Ives, review of A Dangerous Profession: A Book about the Writing Life, p. 86; February 15, 1999, David W. Henderson, review of The Night Inspector, p. 182; May 15, 2001, Nancy Pearl, review of Girls, p. 192; April 15, 2005, Rebecca Stuhr, review of North, p. 71.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 12, 1995, review of The Children in the Woods, p. 7; March 16, 1997, review of Girls, p. 2.

Nation, November 6, 1976, Richard Elman, review of Domestic Particulars, pp. 468-469.

New Republic, December 7, 1974, review of Manual Labor, p. 25.

New Statesman, February 15, 1974, review of Breathing Trouble, p. 231.

New York Arts Journal, February-March, 1978, John Romano, review of Manual Labor, pp. 23-24.

New York Times Book Review, November 3, 1974, Joyce Carol Oates, review of Manual Labor, p. 66; January 13, 1980, Robert Buffington, review of Rounds, p. 22; August 18, 1991, Patrick Magrath, review of Closing Arguments, p. 6; June 20, 1993, Ursula Hebi, review of Long Way from Home, p. 17; December 4, 1994, review of The Children in the Woods, p. 70; February 26, 1995, review of The Children in the Woods, p. 28; March 16, 1997, Scott Spencer, review of Girls, p. 12; May 30, 1999, John Crowley, review of The Night Inspector, p. 4.

Publishers Weekly, June 7, 1991, review of Closing Arguments, p. 55; July 12, 1991, review of Harry and Catherine, p. 64; March 8, 1993, review of Long Way from Home, p. 66; November 25, 1996, review of Girls, p. 54; October 5, 1998, review of A Dangerous Profession, p. 68; February 15, 1999, review of The Night Inspector, p. 84; May 31, 1999, review of Letters to a Fiction Writer, p. 81; June 11, 2001, review of War Babies, p. 59; November 4, 2002, review of A Memory of War, p. 59; April 11, 2005, review of North, p. 33.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 2002, Alan Tinkler, review of War Babies, p. 242.

Saturday Review, March 29, 1980, Allan Peacock, review of Rounds, p. 56.

School Library Journal, July, 1997, Molly Connally, review of Girls, p. 114.

Studies in Short Fiction, spring, 1995, Glenn Scott Allen, review of The Children in the Woods, p. 237.

Times Literary Supplement, February 22, 1974, review of Breathing Trouble, p. 173.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 23, 1995, review of The Children in the Woods, p. 8; March 16, 1997, Antonya Nelson, review of Girls, pp. 5, 11.

Wall Street Journal, March 20, 1997, Merle Rubin, review of Girls, p. A14.



Washington Post, February 26, 2006, Matt Schudel, "Novelist Frederick Busch, 64," p. C8.*

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