By Frederick Busch

I wanted to like this book. Busch has been a favorite of mine for a long time, as I noted last week in commenting on his sudden death, from a heart attack, at the age of 64. But I have to say that I didn’t like it. Not because of the story, so much, because the story is a compelling, sad, psychological tale, but because the relationships in the story are far from convincing, and the voice of the narrator is, in my opinion, flat.

The story begins where Busch’s Girls left off. Jack is now a broken man, with a dead child and a dead ex-wife, and drifts from one rent-a-cop job to another. He meets Merle, a New York lawyer who doesn’t seem terribly appealing but appeals to him anyway, and she needs his help. He tries to help her and in the process has unconvincing run-ins with Georgia and Clarence and his old friends Elroy and Sarah. The outcome is not only predictable, and so without suspense, it isn’t even all that interesting. What I liked best about the book was Jack’s dog, a chocolate lab with no name, who is never far from Jack’s thoughts. One of the things I will always remember about Busch was hearing him talking about his dogs. When I heard that he had died while traveling, I wondered about his dogs. What would happen, I thought, when his wife went home to the dogs and he wasn’t with her? What would they think.

Possibly because of the dog, and possibly because of the ex-cop who hooks up with the first woman he sees, the book reminded me of T.R. Pearson, particularly Blue Ridge and Polar. But here I didn’t care for the narrator’s voice. Jack is, admittedly, not an educated man, and so it is believable that his story is told in monotonous, choppy short sentences. But it isn’t a voice that keeps a reader interested for very long. Busch won’t, I hope, be remembered for this forgettable book.

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