Thanksgiving Night: A Novel
by Richard Bausch
A Small Town Casting Call
A review by Stan Parish
Richard Bausch writes dialogue with the ease that most people talk. The conversations in his novels are so artfully rendered that you barely notice the pulsing engine of the plot. The effect is that we're carried effortlessly through the story while we eavesdrop on his characters. Which is what makes his latest novel, Thanksgiving Night so surprising. The only place the dialogue drives the plot is into a ditch.
The scene for is Point Royal, a fictional Virginia small-town in the weeks before Thanksgiving. Two elderly women are preparing for the holiday. There is grief and loss to spare among the people they know: a priest with a dying faith, a contractor with a deceased wife, a divorced local cop. Frequent cuts between these sets of lives make the novel feel like a crowded party where the author is playing host, haphazardly working the room in an attempt to give everyone their due. But not even sex scandals and school shootings can make the small town saga feel less small.
Bausch's characteristic empathy, which was on wide display in Wives and Lovers and Hello to the Cannibals, 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.
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