Sunday, May 06, 2018

Violence (1992)

Richard Bausch's fifth novel has a slightly misleading title and is flawed in many small ways, yet it's also haunting and hard to put down. Charles Connally is married and his wife Carol is pregnant. It's her first child, but her second marriage, though both are in their 20s. Charles is still an undergraduate in college, a late starter, and they have problems related to anxiety about the baby and money. On a trip to Chicago to visit Charles's mother—Carol is meeting her for the first time, prompted by the pregnancy—they fight and worry. Charles's mother's apartment is not big enough so they are staying in a motel. One night, after quarreling with Carol, Charles goes out for a walk and wanders into a convenience store that becomes the scene of an out-of-control armed robbery. Four people die. Charles survives, helps save one person in the incident, and becomes a media hero. This is the only overt violence in the novel, but Carol and especially Charles also have violence lurking in their pasts. I think Bausch is attempting to portray violence as intrinsic to life in small ways and large. People not treating each other well is a kind of violence. So is a baby, in a way, intruding on the life of its parents. A lot of the details here struck me as overdetermined—Carol's background and the strange life of her parents, Carol's own history, even some of the people involved in the robbery. Yet Bausch's aging college student and struggling young marriage also feel on the mark, etched from experience, which makes the story absorbing and affecting. I don't exactly like many of these characters yet at the same time I kind of love them. I don't actually have this feeling of love often for fictional characters, so I hold Violence in a certain regard. Both times I've read it I've come away thinking it's got something, though it's distractingly easy to recognize and note the flaws—the self-involvement, the many small points that register wrong, the unnecessarily provocative title. The last time we saw Richard Bausch he was cutting down an 800-page novel to the size of a short story. There's no question of what he's able to do with sentences and paragraphs. Even when it maunders on in self-pity I think Violence remains insanely readable. I love it.

In case it's not at the library.

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