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Thanksgiving Night: A Novelby Richard Bausch
"Bausch's characteristic empathy...is present here at times. And when he manages to elevate his viewpoint from host to author, the prose go with it. There is striking insight into human guilt and impulse. But in the end, Thanksgiving Night feels remarkably like, well, Thanksgiving night. You're comfortable, surrounded by familiar faces, and ready, at any moment, to nod off." Stan Parish, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
Richard Bausch calls this, his tenth novel, "a love comedy with sorrows." The story is set in the small Virginia valley town of Point Royal, where several of Bausch's other novels and many of his stories take place. It is 1999; predictions of catastrophe blare on the radio, and religious fanaticism is everywhere on the rise. The millennium is approaching.
Oliver Ward and his divorced daughter, a young policewoman named Alison, and Oliver's two grandchildren become involved with Holly Grey and Holly's aunt Fiona, elderly ladies with a marked propensity for outlandish behavior. Holly's son, Will Butterfield, and Elizabeth, Will's second wife by that name, have been happily married for ten years but are about to discover how fragile happiness is.
And in the middle of all of them is an old priest, Father John Fire, who is a good man, thinking of leaving the priesthood. He is called "Brother Fire" by everyone who knows him, after the famous words of Saint Francis when confronted with the burning brand with which he would be martyred. Close to both Holly and Fiona, Brother Fire also has a part to play in the rapidly unfolding family drama.
Thanksgiving Night is a touching and empathetic portrayal of family — the one we have, and the ones we make. The people who populate these pages are flawed, wounded, stubborn, willful, scarred, often wildly eccentric, and all searching, in one way or another, for love.
"A house in Point Royal, Va., serves to entangle two families in clannish chaos. When local handyman Oliver Ward is summoned for a job at the house of Holly Grey and her aunt Fiona, he has no idea what to make of the two squabbling, headstrong old ladies who want to divide — literally — their house in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The two are known as 'the Crazies' by Holly's son, bookstore owner Will Butterfield, and his wife, high school teacher Elizabeth, who are growing weary of their antics. But they pay Oliver, who begins working at the ladies' house. Oliver's daughter, policewoman and single mother Alison, is later called in to help talk Holly off the roof during a drunken dispute. Meanwhile, Will's grown children, Mark and Gail, from his first marriage (to another Elizabeth, who abandoned the family) are in disagreement over whether they should hunt down their long-gone mother. There are digressions: Gail's sexual identity is an open question; Elizabeth's students are fractious; Will finds himself tempted by a sexy, none-too-stable bartender. When Oliver has a stroke on the job, the two families are thrown together at Holly and Fiona's as the Thanksgiving holiday draws nigh. Author of nine novels and five story collections, Bausch (Wives & Lovers) engages stock characters and a predictable theme of holiday forgiveness this time out, but he injects some crackle into the heartwarming elements." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Some novelists are such gifted stylists and storytellers — with profound insight into the best and worst that resides deep inside the human heart — that a smaller person than I just might hate their guts. OK, even a person my size might experience serious envy. Richard Bausch is such a writer. For a quarter-century now, in novels and short stories, he has turned a mirror on us and our next-door... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) neighbors and shown us how real people live and laugh and cry. And, yes, how they get into all kinds of mischief. His new novel, 'Thanksgiving Night,' is big and sprawling but (by design) anything but epic. It's downright domestic. The book is set in the autumn of 1999, a new millennium is approaching, and on the surface everything is just fine in Point Royal, Va. Except that the marriage of Will and Elizabeth Butterfield is starting to fray as Will nears 50. And Will's mother, Holly, and her Aunt Fiona — who is actually about Holly's age — are fighting (again), and Fiona has climbed up on the roof of their house for the night. (These women are known, appropriately, as 'the Crazies.') And Will's two grown children from his first marriage are squabbling once more and planning to bring their grievances with them to Virginia for a visit. Meanwhile, Oliver, the building contractor who has been retained to literally divide Holly and Fiona's house in half so each woman can have a separate living space, is drinking too much. Oliver's daughter, Alison, a police officer in Point Royal, has separated from her husband, and her best friend has moved away. She has a little girl who is alarmingly quiet and a sweet and sensitive and sleepwalking teenage son who still likes to sleep in her bed when he is troubled. The boy's English teacher — who happens to be Elizabeth Butterfield — thinks the world of the young man, which is a good thing; his math teacher does, too, which is not good at all, given his unnatural longings for the boy. Counseling many of this group at different points in the novel is Father John Fire, an elderly priest whose faith is starting to waver and who lives with a younger priest whose religious poetry is at once sincere and laughably bad. Listening to it daily is yet one more cross the erudite and somewhat aristocratic Fire must bear. ('The battering of God outshined the sun/And battered your heart as you said he did, Donne.') Yes, there are enough major characters in 'Thanksgiving Night' to fill a novel by Tolstoy. But they are all impeccably drawn and so deeply alive that you never need a score card or a family tree to keep track of who's who. And while there are myriad plots and subplots swirling throughout the group, perhaps the most central one involves Will and his extramarital dalliance with the lubricious and deeply unstable bartender named Ariana, who has moved in across the street from Will and Elizabeth and is fond of seducing Will at the small bookstore he owns. In one of my very favorite moments, Ariana and her husband have come to Will and Elizabeth's home for dinner, and Will's anxiety is so palpable that the scene is excruciating, unbearable — and riveting. Bausch doesn't have to resort to the pyrotechnics of boiled bunnies ('Fatal Attraction') or death by snow globe ('Unfaithful') to dramatize the tension that comes with adultery: He does it better with a few bottles of wine, some jazz on the CD player and a woman who wants to dance. Bausch is also a master at capturing the wistfulness that can dog us all whenever we give ourselves license to think. Here is Alison, alone, just after she has found herself sobbing while doing the laundry: 'The whole condition of the living universe, understood in the viscera and bone, is the feeling of something carved, by courage and necessity, out of fear. Alison thinks of the rabbit foraging in a field, one eye on heaven and what wheels and circles there among the fleecy clouds in the wide, bright blue. She fears loneliness with that same wrenching of the nerves and heart.' Bausch consistently mixes good cheer and humor with longing and (on occasion) despair, sprinkling them all into this satisfying feast of a book that feels authentic and wise. Sure, it's clear that by the time this whole extended crew gathers at Thanksgiving most of their problems will have been resolved. But Bausch is such a companionable writer, and his characters so consistently genuine, that I never stopped turning the pages with enthusiasm, wonder and a delight in life's endless possibilities. Chris Bohjalian is the author of 10 novels, including 'Midwives' and 'Before You Know Kindness.' His new novel, 'The Double Bind,' will be published in February." Reviewed by Chris Bohjalian, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Bausch is such a companionable writer, and his characters so consistently genuine, that I never stopped turning the pages with enthusiasm, wonder and a delight in life's endless possibilities." Chris Bohjalian, The Washington Post Book World
"Richard Bausch displays a bracing, unapologetically old-fashioned sensibilty....Old-fashioned novelists tend to be generous, and Thanksgiving Night comes with broad swaths of detail, abundant quirks and lots of human suffering, as well as low-key lyricism." Meg Wolitzer, The New York Times Book Review
"Bausch's engagingly deranged characters hold our attention, and somehow muddle through, in one of his more interesting and readable longer fictions." Kirkus Reviews
"[F]unny, tender....[Bausch] turns enough fictional conventions on end to lure the reader deeper into the heart of his wounded characters, struggling for decency and forgiveness. Strongly recommended." Library Journal
"Early on, everyone in Thanksgiving Night seems to be walking a thin tightrope over a pit of despair, trying valiantly not to slip into it....That's not to say the novel is without levity, love and hope; Bausch supplies plenty to go around, just as one would wish on any Thanksgiving night." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
From Pen/Malamud winner Bausch comes a rich and moving novel about two eccentric families in a small Virginia town, set during the Thanksgiving season.
About the Author
Richard Bausch is the author of nine other novels and seven volumes of short stories. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Playboy, GQ, Harper's Magazine, and other publications, and has been featured in numerous best-of collections, including the O. Henry Awards' Best American Short Stories and New Stories from the South. In 2004 he won the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story.
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