Books

Fears and Consequences

Richard Bausch's Powerful Short Stories Don't Tell All

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RICHARD BAUSCH'S first short story, "All the Way in Flagstaff, Arizona," was originally a novel that Bausch pared down to its bare essentials. The stories collected in his latest book, Something Is Out There, similarly hint at bigger stories that don't appear on the page. In "Reverend Thornhill's Wife," the titular character has a tryst with a stranger she met on the internet, but we don't see the incident's effect on her marriage. A diner waitress is attracted to one of her customers in "Overcast," and toys with the idea of calling him on the phone; we don't learn if she ever does. In "Sixty-five Million Years," a priest vainly tries to track down a teenage boy after he's tormented by the boy's anonymous admissions in the confession booth. And in "Something Is Out There," a strange visitor during a blizzard causes a wife to suspect her hospitalized husband is up to no good; we never determine if her suspicions are founded.

Bausch is an expert storyteller, and it's because he never answers the obvious questions. Instead, he captures the dread of his characters as they navigate circumstances beyond their control. In that way, Something Is Out There is aptly titled, as each of its stories fearfully hints at an unseen menace—whether it's the disintegration of a relationship in "One Hour in the History of Love," or a drug deal gone bad in "Son and Heir."

The book's centerpiece and longest work, "Blood," is its most realized narrative, in which a young man, Walker, falls for his elder brother's wife while learning that she might be unfaithful to his brother. Walker's ensnared in two situations he can't fully comprehend: his lustful feelings for his brother's wife, which cause him paralyzing guilt, and his own blood relationship with his brother, which has an unacknowledged but undeniable sway over all of his actions. We see the impending consequence of Walker's fears as the character slowly loses a grip on his identity, and when Walker takes action, it's quick, inevitable, and senseless. As with the other characters that populate the 11 short stories in Something Is Out There, Bausch wonderfully depicts Walker against a roiling backdrop of fears and emotions. And possessing the craft and subtlety of a seasoned writer, Bausch recognizes that the storm clouds are more interesting than the storm.

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