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Richard Bausch Biography

novel york stories press

Nationality: American. Born: Fort Benning, Georgia, 1945. Education: George Mason University, B.A. 1973; University of Iowa, M.F.A. 1975; also attended Northern Virginia Community College. Military Service: U.S. Air Force, survival instructor, 1966-69. Career: Worked as singer-songwriter and comedian; professor, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, 1980—. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1982; Guggenheim Fellowship, 1984; Lila Wallace Reader's Best Writer's Award, 1992; Academy Award in Literature (American Academy of Arts and Letters), 1993. Agent: Harriet Wasserman, Russell & Volkening, Inc., 551 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10017, U.S.A.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Real Presence: A Novel. New York, Dial Press, 1980.

Take Me Back: A Novel. New York, Dial Press, 1981.

The Last Good Time. New York, Dial Press, 1984.

Mr. Field's Daughter: A Novel. New York, Linden Press/Simon &Schuster, 1989.

Violence. Boston, Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence, 1992.

Rebel Powers. Boston, Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence, 1993.

Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea. NewYork, HarperCollins, 1996.

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

Short Stories

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

The Fireman's Wife and Other Stories. New York, Linden Press/Simon & Schuster, 1990.

Rare and Endangered Species: A Novella and Stories. Boston, Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence, 1994.

Aren't You Happy for Me? and Other Stories. London, Macmillan, 1995.

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

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

Other

Afterword, Appalachee Red: A Novel by Richard Andrews. Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1987.

Introduction, The Sound of Writing, edited by Alan Cheuse andCaroline Marshall. New York, Anchor Books, 1991.

Introduction, The Old Forest and Other Stories by Peter Taylor. NewYork, Modern Library, 1995.

Foreword, Bad Man Blues: A Portable George Garrett by GeorgeGarrett. Dallas, Texas, Southern Methodist University Press, 1998.

Contributor, Love in Full Bloom, edited by Margaret Fowler andPriscilla McCutcheon. New York, Ballantine Books, 1994.

Contributor, Off the Beaten Path: Stories of Place, edited by JosephBarbato and Lisa Weinerman Horak. New York, North Point Press, 1998.

Editor, with R. V. Cassill, The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. New York, W. W. Norton, 2000.

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Critical Studies:

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 51, Detroit, Gale, 1989; Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 14, Detroit, Gale, 1992; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 130, American Short-Story Writers Since World War II, Detroit, Gale, 1993.

* * *

Real Presence begins with a man answering an employment advertisement only to discover that the company that placed the ad is not only no longer hiring—it has all but gone out of business. From such prosaic beginnings, the novel centers upon a literally heartsick priest who becomes the unwilling benefactor to the erstwhile job-hunter and his family of five wild children and an eternally beset and very pregnant wife. This, with its Southern setting, its identifiable symbolism, its cast of seeming grotesques, and its dramatic crisis of faith, is, as one reviewer put it, "Flannery O'Connor country." But the author of Real Presence would soon, in later works, pull himself out of the long shadow thrown by the author of Wise Blood.

As a novelist, Richard Bausch is an unabashed humanist. His writing is far from the satirical social surveys of Tom Wolfe or the metafictional virtuosities of John Barth. Nor is he, like O'Connor, a metaphysical tester of souls. Instead, over the course of eight novels and four acclaimed collections of short fiction, Bausch has focused his own talents on that most cliched, and thus undervalued, of fictional constructs—character.

Bausch deploys an unadorned and direct, but unusually supple, style of narration that eschews overt affect for simple description and depiction. Telling details and evocative incidents accrete until discernible personalities emerge. The Last Good Time begins with several pages describing the quotidian routine of an old widower who lives alone in a small apartment. But Bausch does not create static portraits; he is as rigorous as an anthropologist in filling in the context of circumstance under which his characters are formed. Taking E. M. Forster's epigraph to "only connect" as his aesthetic manifesto, Bausch excels at portraying lives in the process of living. The routine of the elderly man in The Last Good Time is shown to have deep roots in the man's past, but it must soon give way when his life is irrevocably altered by the intrusion of a young prostitute.

If Bausch's mastery of literary characterization is unquestionable, his choice of character has created considerable critical acrimony, for Bausch has chosen to focus his meticulous imagination on creating ordinary people living ordinary lives. Critics often fault Bausch's choice of subject matter as uninteresting, which may help explain why his work does not enjoy a wider readership. Take Me Back, Bausch's second novel, may have suffered from being marketed as the story of a marriage sundered by alcoholism and mental illness. But the achievement of this particular novel is that Bausch has, through scrupulous attention to the portrayal of the emotional lives of his characters, breathed real life into such stereotypical clay. The alcoholic husband, a professional failure, slowly emerges as nobly, if imperfectly, loyal to his wife, a former musician whose decline into insanity is portrayed with pathos.

It is not that Bausch is incapable of literary experimentation; the structures of all his novels are as organically complex with memory and rumination as they are largely linear in chronology. But Mr. Field's Daughter, Bausch's fourth novel, is also formally complex, interspersing its mostly third-person narration with chapters entitled "Certain Testimony" that contain the first-person voices of the book's two main characters, an older man and his grown daughter, both of whom must cope with the damage her elopement has caused to their relationship even as they disagree with how to deal with the daughter's estranged and vengeful husband.

Even when Bausch creates the most extraordinary circumstances, as he does in In the Night Season, in which a young widow and her son become the target of vindictive and murderous smugglers thinly disguised as white-supremacist militia-men, Bausch maintains a tight focus on the emotional reactions of his characters. The more sensational elements of his plots are harnessed tightly to this aim. That is, the significance of such extraordinary events, like the armed robbery that Connally, the protagonist, survives in Violence, is secondary to their aftermath. The real violence of Violence lies in the way that physical trauma begets emotional damage in perpetrators as well as victims. In this novel, the end of a physical act of violence marks only the beginning of its many victimizations, and Bausch explores the unfolding consequence of the fatal robbery with what seems to be an unerring eye for the confusions and surges of passion that roil throughout his characters' interactions. As Connally changes from shocked victim to inadvertent hero to ostensible avenger in the wake of the crime, Bausch describes each transformation from within Connally's perceptions. What matters for Bausch is not the depiction of a sensational event; it is the artful creation of real feeling.

The Russian formalist Victor Shklovsky maintained that the purpose of art was to knowingly shift perceptions so as to make familiar objects seem new again. Bausch most effectively employs this maxim in Rebel Powers, his sixth novel and his most ruminative one, in which a middle-aged bookseller, tellingly named Thomas, remembers and relates the failed marriage of his parents following his father's imprisonment for a petty crime. Taking the familiar elements of an alienated husband and wife, the travails of single parenting, and a young man's coming-of-age, Bausch attempts artistic alchemy, this time with a plot that partakes of nothing more extraordinary than the theft of a typewriter. Still, Rebel Powers is, in its dogged resistance to encapsulation, Bausch's least ordinary book. Again and again in this novel, Thomas posits, then rejects, easy explanations for the events he narrates, and this unwillingness to pass summary judgement focuses attention on the principals involved rather than on the culpability of their actions. Clearly, the placement of blame is seen as a barrier to connection and compassion with Thomas's parents, a discernible lesson that, once distilled, nevertheless diminishes (and is antithetical to) this particular incarnation of the Bauschian aesthetic. What is important are the lives portrayed, not the parables thus gleaned, and Thomas's relentless remembrance, executed without indictment, becomes a book-length manifestation of filial love.

Bausch's only overt comedy is his seventh novel, Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, And All the Ships At Sea, a bildungsroman set in 1963 in Washington D.C., where Walter Marshall, a nineteen-yearold innocent, is enrolled in the D'Allessandro School for Broadcasting, but he has developed political, even presidential, aspirations because of his adoration of the assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Walter then undergoes romantic and moral maturation through a series of comic developments that disabuse him of his dreams.

For all the bleakness and despair and disillusionment that Bausch introduces into the lives of his literary constructs, he nevertheless ends all of his novels on a note that is, if not hopeful, at least an acknowledgement that life endures, like the Dilsey section of Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury. It is a gesture aimed at addressing the wider world outside each novel, enfolding it back into the universe out of which Bausch has scrupulously worked to distill and clarify his narratives and his aesthetic ends. For Walter Marshall, the end of Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, And All the Ships At Sea is a tragicomic one as Walter, wiser for all the buffetings his ideals have taken, still manages to muster enough noble aspiration to seek out a better place based on an idealized past, "where concern for what was right mattered, and people were what they seemed to be … where the war was being fought for freedom, and where the conflict was definite, the enemy clear." In short, the novel ends with Walter resolving to enlist in the Vietnam War.

—J.J. Wylie

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