Spirits and Other Stories

Cahill, Thomas

SPIRITS AND OTHEB STOBIES Richard Bausch Simon and Schuster, $15.95, 237,pp. Thomas Cahill ' It is easy not to like these stories, to try to get away from them as quickly...

...Who's normal in private...
...He rides no current, catches no wave...
...But Bausch is hopping with sex, all kinds of sex, all of it salvific and a turn-on to the reader...
...they are integral as a chordal progression in Josquin Desprez...
...569...
...s in a strange town that has no meaning for him, and recalls his beloved, lost family...
...I feel sure that Bausch's experience of sex led him, as it does all men who grow up, to his experience of fatherhood and this fatherhood is the matrix of his stories...
...In the first story ("All the Way in Flagstaff, Arizona"), a vagrant whose life has been ruined by drink stands'shaking with the D.T...
...Let's see...
...Sometimes the dialogue has a quiet crack to it...
...They are the plainest people...
...in fact, he gives us no message, but leaves us to finish the story...
...That is why, as I have read from one to another, I have tasted a sort of metallic panic, almost a despair...
...In the third story ("Police Dreams"), a devoted husband and father who is completely in the dark about why his wife left him experiences recurrent nightmares in which he and his family are stalked by murderers...
...I'll tell you," says one minor character, "It's a terrific misfortune to have to be raised by a human being...
...Bausch's God prods and irritates, but seldom traumatizes his creatures...
...asks a sister of her brother in "Contrition...
...Thomas Cahill ' It is easy not to like these stories, to try to get away from them as quickly as possible...
...Since they are not good consumers, they do not allow us even that frisson of product recognition that has become such a staple of contemporary fiction...
...That's how all the sentences go, almost algebraically...
...It is virtually impossible not to finish a Bausch novel at one sitting, and of these stories it can be said that while you are in the midst of one you will not be able to answer a ringing telephone How does he do it...
...One word follows another plainly, ploddingly...
...They are not stuck in...
...They seem the inevitable words, serviceable, and nothing more...
...About a month before Jean left him," begins the third story, "Casey dreamed he was sitting in the old Maverick with her and the two boys, Rodney and Michael...
...But how to capture Bausch for the reader...
...Sunt lacrymae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt rises from'Bausch's pages like incense...
...No flash, no fireworks, nothing to admire except, of course, the supreme artifice that so conceals itself...
...In one of these stories, "The Man Who Knew Belle Starr," Bausch deliberately provokes comparison with'O'Connor's "A Good ,Man Is Hard to Find.'' In Bausch's story, as in O'Connor's, a person's whole psyche is rearranged when a gun is pointed at him and he knows he will be killed in minutes...
...If it's alive, and I irritate it enough, it'll move," says he...
...Whodoesn't...
...For though his fiction is indeed contemporary, it is in no way,"of the moment...
...Except that they are all nonentities, their sadnesses are like the griefs of ancient tragedy...
...And yet this vision is so whole that no element ever clanks like a symbol in a surrealist painting...
...What's happened to you...
...Both are Georgians, Catholics, both think of life as a spiritual crisis...
...But if his almost monosyllabic style fails to stir us to superlatives and his casts of characters set our teeth on edge, Bausch's plots are things to wonder at, for they draw us like magnets to a pole...
...I've had three husbands in my life and they rill had things about them that you couldn't say was too normal," says the landlady in "Spirits," the title story...
...How could you wind up like this how could you let it happen...
...These are questions that could be put to all Bausch's characters...
...But Bausch's message is not O'Connor's...
...Then there are Bausch's characters...
...Rather, like the weather in Lear (and there is much weather in Bausch), you need not advert to the symbols...
...I don't know...
...At the end of Real Presence, Bausch's first novel, a man reaches into a fish tank to prod a lackadaisical fish...
...How could anyone take a steady diet of such people...
...You feel, reading these stories, that Bausch has imagined everything about these characters the way they cried and held their bodies as infants, the way they hurt and admired themselves as adolescents, their secret yearnings, their middle-aged bowel movements, all their years and idiosyncracies, far beyond anything he sets on the'page...
...It seems almost not to be there...
...They lead impossible, unsatisfactory lives...
...His constant theme is how much people really care for one another beneath the monosyllabic surfaces and the apparent indifference without their ever saying so, often without their knowing so themselves...
...In this caring lies the Real Presence ,our meaning, the Father in our lives...
...It is my deep, perverse suspicion that, when I am an old man, in the second and third decades of the twenty-first century, all of, Bausch this book, his three novels, anything he may write will be in print, and names like Updike, Roth, Bellow will have faded from view...
...They most 568 usually ask themselves if they have enough change for two sundaes at K Mart...
...Thus, his characters are usually husband-wife, parent-child, though they are sometimes strangers who (perhaps only momentarily) act these roles toward one another...
...In our not recognizing it lies our real tragedy...
...But the remark is so much in context, such a part of seamless whole, that the reader is well, into the next paragraph before he realizes he's been hit, is bleeding from the abdomen...
...And they are so inadequate to their situations...
...In the second story ("Wise Men at Their End"), a gruff, graceless man must summon up his meager personal resources to meet his impending disintegration...
...Bausch's characters never illustrate a thesis...
...All I can say is that he imagines so completely...
...He sees his characters so organically, so interrelatedly that everything has meaning, nothing is an accident...
...The only twentieth-century American writer to whom he may be valuably compared is Flannery O'Connor...
...First of all, there is his style...
...And though their lives are truly sad, God is never fierce with them no fiercer, at least, than is absolutely necessary...

Vol. 114 • October 1987 • No. 17


 
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