Richard Bausch's new collection of stories, Something is out there. observes the strong passions of everyday life. I think his greatest skill is making what is internal - what is going on in the heart or the mind of his characters - external without our being precisely aware at the moment of the arrogance of the invasion. In the title story, the action is a kind of surreal malaise experienced by two sisters resulting from the shooting, earlier that day, of one of their husbands. As a blizzard envelops them, the two sons tend to the practical business of shoveling snow as they await the arrival of their cousin, the son of the other sister. One sister is forward-focused and a doer, the other ruminative and hysterical.
Dora wandered back into the kitchen and then on, to her room. The boys talked about shovbeling the walk again. Paula said to go ahead; it was something for them to do. She couldn't quite voice the thought - it was too ordinary, really, almost childlike - but it seemed impossible that the trauma of the afternoon's trouble and anxiety could be added to by anything serious where Christopher was concerned. The world she knew did not act that way. She wanted to say something to the boys - to tell them that the day's misfortune was sufficient, plenty enough for anyone, and surely the world would not add to all that. But then she understood the irrational nature of this line of thinking; there was not going to be anything sensible or logical about this day. She felt a little freezing current of air under her heart, and tried to concentrate on watching the boys shovel the walk again. They barely made any headway.How subtly and exactly he captures that wandery, threatening, other-wordly atmosphere of a confrontation with mortality - the aftermath of the storm of adrenalin, the sense-making exercises the mind engages in. Bausch doesn't write what Paula thought but rather what she doesn't think, but what sits at the edge of her mind behind her actions. Nor does he litter his prose with the predictable 'she thought to herself.' Instead he observes what people do, what they say, the idiosyncratic content of a sensory detail that comes to their awareness, and the understandings they then possess out of these experiences. That "freezing current of air under her heart," how perfect and precise a physical detail. A winter storm inside to match the winter storm outside.
Bausch catches the odd moment, the kind that we become aware of in the moment that we will never forget all our lives.
I found "One Hour in The History of Love" the most unusualof the stories. Written in the present tense, it observes the commerce of relationships of 3 groups of people - 1 newly wed (and newly pregnant) couple sitting at a cafe table with their friends, also a couple, but at a more jaded stage in their relationship. At an adjacent table sits another couple, a writer, his fiancee, and a self-absorbed photographer she used to assist. An elderly couple sits in a coffee shop on the corner of the same block as the cafe. Beginnings, middles, and ends of the life cycle eddy around this block, interacting with the chief creative acts of life - art-making (in the writer and photographer), life making (in the grown children of the elderly couple and the nascent child in the newly wed's womb), and loving. These three forces exist in three adjoining dramas which affect each other but never intentionally interact.
"Give me a call before you leave town," Benjamin says to them both. "We could sit out on my balcony and share a bottle of wine." He realizes, as he speaks, how lonely this makes him sound, and as he tries to find something else to say, some words indicating with the proper amount of casualness that others would also be there, Jesse cuts him off. "We'll do that, you bet," he says in the tone of someone already forgetting the invitation, and walking away with his lovely woman on his arm, and his obvious pride in being happy, in love. Benjamin walks down the sidewalk, past an old man - the same old man, he realizes, that he had seen earlier - who comes storming by him with that rickety walk, hands shoved down in his pockets. The whole world is bright sun, and the man's eyes are narrow, furious, the mouth deeply frowning.What a masterful conflagration of detail, like an episodic stage play in which the summing of unrelated scenes creates a complex drama that the participants aren't event aware of.
I think my favorite of the stories was "Overcast," in which Elaine, a waitress at a diner, lives in the aftermath of her divorce. The business of the story is her taking refuge in writing and listening to opera, her brewing and serving of coffee, her visiting her mother, but its action is her dawning realization of her own loneliness. The story has a quiet arc, a penetrating insight, and forthright diction. Those are the qualities I have come most to admire in this, the first Bausch volume I have read. I am tempted to try a novel by him next - any suggestions?
Here are my other posts on Something is out there 1, 2.