Children in the Woods

Busch, Frederick. Children in the Woods. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1994.

Reason read: Busch’s birth month is in August.

Children in the Woods is made up of 23 short stories. Most of the stories are really bleak. It is advisable to parse them out over time. I read one a day and even that was a little much.

  • “Bread” – a young man and his sister have the difficult task of cleaning out their parents’s house after they are killed in a plane crash. As an aside, this was the first time I’d ever heard someone other than Phish reference cluster flies. Quote I liked, “I named the chicken Bunny because I’d never been permitted to own the rabbit my mother had promised me as consolation after she’d shattered my sixth year of life by disclosing that the Easter Bunny did not in fact bring jelly beans and marshmallow chicks the color of radioactive rocks” (p 4).
  • “Bring Your Friends to the Zoo” – an adulterous couple meets at the zoo so that one of them can end it. No lines to quote but there was the sardonic phrase, “We want it to be a happy day for you and all the animals” stated over and over.
  • “Is Anyone Left This Time of Year?” – a man comes to visit Ireland in November. Since it’s post-seasonal no one is around, literally and emotionally. Quote
  • “A three-Legged Race” – a mother tries to give her 12 year old son a birthday party. Line worth mentioning, “I married Mac because he was more of a virgin that I was” (p 41).
  • “The Trouble With Being Food” – an overweight man confronts his girlfriend’s ex-husband. Much like a repeating line in “Bring Your Friends to the Zoo” there was a repeating line in “Trouble.”
  • “How the Indians Came Home” – a woman’s troubled marriage is revealed. Line I liked a lot, “But you can’t have what you want, and sometimes you live with wrong mornings” (p 72).
  • “Widow Water” – plumber “saves” people.
  • “The Lesson of the Hotel Lotti” – a daughter struggles to understand her mother’s affair with a married man.
  • “My Father, Cont.” -a child is paranoid his father is planning to abandon him in the woods ala Hansel and Gretel.
  • “What You Might as Well Call Love” – Ben and Marge tackle a sump pump and their marriage.
  • “The Settlement on Mars” – Parents take separate vacations.
  • “Critics” – parents struggle with who wears the pants in the family.
  • “Stand, and Be Recognized” – a draft dodger visits an old friend. Line I liked, “Though certainly I knew as I went what I’d learned in coming home, that you cannot be haunted by ghosts of your choosing” (p 186).
  • “Ralph the Duck” – a security officer taking college classes rescues a co-ed from an attempted suicide.
  • “Dog Song” – a judge lies in a hospital room trying to remember the accident that put him there.
  • “One More Wave of Fear” – a family is plagued by squirrels in the attic.
  • “The World Began with Charlie Chan” – a late night talk radio host bullies people until a blast from his past rattles his chain.
  • “Extra Extra Large” – Brothers try to grow up. “We sat, not eating, to watch our father try to chew what amounted to everything we could offer him” (p 244).
  • “The Wicked Stepmother” – a librarian writes to her brother about their father’s new wife.
  • “Folk Tales” – A man remembers a brief correspondence he had a child with Albert Einstein.
  • “Dream Abuse” – a man’s nightmares haunt his wife.
  • “The Page” – a tale so sad I can’t even write about it.
  • “Berceuse” – Does a woman regret not having kids after meeting her ex-husband’s son?

Author fact: Busch won the 1991 PEN/Malamud award for distinguished short fiction.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Frederick Busch: Too Good To Miss” (p 48).

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