By Frederick Busch
(Ballantine Books, Paperback, 9780449912638, 304pp.)
Publication Date: March 24, 1998
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A New York Times Notable Book
In the unrelenting cold and bitter winter of upstate New York, Jack and his wife, Fanny, are trying to cope with the desperate sorrow they feel over the death of their young daughter. The loss forms a chasm in their relationship as Jack, a sardonic Vietnam vet, looks for a way to heal them both.
Then, in a nearby town, a fourteen-year-old girl disappears somewhere between her home and church. Though she is just one of the hundreds of children who vanish every year in America, Jack turns all his attention to this little girl. For finding what has become of this child could be Jack's salvation--if he can just get to her in time. . . .
Frederick Busch is the recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award, the National Jewish Book Award, and a fiction award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His last book, The Children in the Woods, was a finalist for the 1995 Pen/Faulkner Award. He has been acting director of the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa and is currently the Edgar Fairchild Professor of Literature at Colgate University.
Excerpts from reviews of Frederick Busch's Girls:
"Girls is about as close to perfect as a novel gets. Its prose is clean and strong but never advertises its own quiet brilliance, its characters are sharply defined and irresistible, and its plot is suspenseful enough to keep you up until dawn."
"Combining the quick pace of a detective story with the bold poetics of literary work, Frederick Busch's taut new novel, Girls, is a dark, compulsively readable drama.... From the makings of an all-too-common evening-news item, Busch has fashioned a novel of considerable weight and dimension. By imbuing the lurid with the introspective, he has given a stock story intelligence, humanity, and terrific range."
"When a book is this successful it's impossible to detect any sign of artistic struggle.... Jack is such an absorbing and sympathetic narrator.... nothing [Busch] has published in the past has quite prepared me for the seductive beauty of this very disturbing book.... Its pitch-perfect dialogue, skillfully contrived plot, and authentically wintry atmosphere are all exceptional, but a great deal of its strength comes from the moral complexity of its characters.... The highest compliment a reader can pay a literary thriller--or any novel, for that matter--is to claim that the book is nearly as intricate and mysterious as life itself, that the reader has lived in the book as if it were a particularly lifelike dream, and cared about its characters as if they were real. All these claims are true about Girls".
--The Washington Post Book World
"It is a dark tale, but it's told with an economical mastery and intensity that only a few current novelists can command. Busch even manages to create a dog who is real, touching but never cute, and the perfect life-enhancing foil for the human sorrows around him."
"The novel's social realism gives it the page-turning pace of a mystery. But Busch's masterly pairing of dark wit and tender mercy is what makes Girls a great work."
"This well-written and engrossing novel is part mystery and part exploration of how grief can manhandle a marriage."
"Girls is about pain and what happens when pain can't find its way out of the human vessel....Girls is unusually entertaining.... In the end, this is a chilling story about the guilt of adulthood."
"Though the crime story is intriguing, it is Jack's growing insight about his marriage, his town, and himself that transforms this page-turner about lost children into a tender and eloquent examination of the even greater mystery that is the human heart."
"Fierce, wise, gripping and true, Girls marks the continuing evolution of a first-rate American storyteller.... the triumph of Girls is in its clear-eyed compassion for all those who try to flee from the bedrock realities of their lives."
--The New York Times Book Review
"A complex and disturbing vision of the world as a place filled with danger powers this fascinating novel.... It all works superbly as a conventional thriller, though the story's most effective as a harrowing expression of the fragility of our defenses against loss and death, and a moving characterization of its memorable protagonist, a decent man who struggles against powerful odds to remain one."