Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea

Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea

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by Richard Bausch

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The critics have been effusive in their praise for Richard Bausch's Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America and All the Ships at Sea. His hardover sales have also never been higher. Taking its title from Walter Winchell's famous radio salutation, Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America opens in Washington, DC, in 1964, just after the Kennedy


The critics have been effusive in their praise for Richard Bausch's Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America and All the Ships at Sea. His hardover sales have also never been higher. Taking its title from Walter Winchell's famous radio salutation, Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America opens in Washington, DC, in 1964, just after the Kennedy assassination, telling the story of Walter Marshall, an idealistic 19-year-old who lives with his widowed mother and studies to be a journalist like his hero, Edward R. Murrow. In this coming-of-age novel in the truest sense of the phrase, young Marshall fumbles toward manhood in a nation that is itself in the midst of cataclysmic change.

With the same elegance and precision that has distinguished his other novels, Richard Bausch has evoked a sense of time and place in a different America and brings the last 30 years of history profoundly and vividly to life.

Author Biography: Richard Bausch's other books include Good Evening Mr. & Mrs. America and All the Ships at Sea, Rebel Powers, Violence, and The LastGood Time. He is the recipient of the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives with his wife, Karen, and theirfive children in rural Virginia.

Editorial Reviews
The Storyteller

What's this?" asks the Virginia-cured voice on the phone. Not "Hi, Mark, it's Dick"; Richard Bausch starts with a joke. "Clop, clop, clop, cloppity-clop," he says. "Clop, clop, cloppity-clop, bang! Clop, clop, cloppity-clop."

"I don't know," I said, because I didn't.

"An Amish drive-by shooting."

I roar. Hadn't heard that one. Dick roars, too. He's a great, throaty laugher.

I tell him one. He's polite and lets me go, but he's heard it. Still, he laughs. Richard Bausch is a lot of things:

• A long-ago wannabe priest ("I met Karen," he says of his wife of nearly 30 years, over whom he is still clearly gaga, "and that was the end of that")

• A former singer/songwriter (his band once opened for Janis Joplin at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago)

• A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop (where his classmates included Alan Gurganus and Jane Smiley)

• The better-known half of America's preeminent writing twins (brother Robert is the author of five books, including ALMIGHTY ME)

• A consummate family man (father of five, two boys and three girls)

• A consummate writer's writer (author of seven novels, including most recently the charming Good Morning Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea, new in paperback, and four collections of short stories, including The Selected Stories of Richard Bausch -- a Modern Library edition, which is an extraordinary honor for a writer in his early 50s)

• A frequent honoree in Best American Short Stories, including the just-released 1997 edtition, which features his hilarious story "Nobody in Hollywood"

• A guy who used to be my teacher (in grad school, at George Mason University in Virginia, where Bausch himself was an undergraduate and where he has taught for more than 20 years)

• Holder of the Heritage Chair in Writing at George Mason, a position the president of the university created especially for Bausch, who declined the perks that went with it, insisting the school instead give $10,000 a year in student fellowships

But, to any of his friends, and any of his readers, too, the first thing you think of when you think of Richard Bausch is this: storyteller. More so than anybody I know, the man is addicted to stories: telling 'em, writing 'em, seeing 'em, hearing 'em, talking about 'em, you name it. Even being on the phone with him drenches the caller in narrative. A few jokes to get rolling (he is a walking, talking joke encyclopedia). Anecdotes about sour, book-hating lit-crit colleagues. A long, passionate discussion of movies, recent and otherwise, complete with Bausch's note-perfect mimicry of favorite scenes from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, A Fish Called Wanda, and The Full Monty.

Then it's on to shoptalk. Bausch has seen an awful lot of aspects of the writing life. He's been a struggling novelist and become a writer whose current editor, Robert Jones, put his job on the line to pressure his bosses at HarperCollins to authorize enough money to sign Bausch to the house. He's flirted with Hollywood, though so far only his novel The Last Good Time was made into a movie (a pretty good one, actually). Although he's a homebody with good work habits, he gets out enough to have met and befriended nearly all the best American writers; in this conversation, pals who show up in one story or another include Richard Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, Ann Beattie, George Garrett, Charles Baxter, and Tim O'Brien -- all without Bausch's ever remotely seeming to name-drop.

Although he gets a book out every couple of years now, Bausch was once much slower; his big breakthrough, both artistically and in terms of productivity, came after he got stuck on a novel that would have been his fourth, after he worked on it for years and finally realized it was crap and went out in the backyard and burned it, page by page, savoring the wave of relief that washed over him.

Right after that, he started writing short stories again (he'd only occasionally written them since grad school, with modest success), and the stories got snapped up by the likes of The Atlantic and The New Yorker. The books that came in the productive wake of the backyard crap-burning -- Spirits and Other Stories, his first collection, and Mr. Field's Daughter -- garnered for Bausch the usual fine reviews, though perhaps somewhat more so, plus healthier sales and better commitment from his publisher.

Still, Bausch's warm, accessible books, rich with knowing insights into the vagaries of familial love, have never, even collectively, reached the audience that flocks to a single Oprah-knighted success. His books have sold respectably. "I don't know and I don't ask" which book has sold the most, he says; his guess is either Good Morning Mr. and Mrs. America or Violence.

"You can't think too much about the audience you deserve," he says. "It'll make you old and bitter," citing the miserable case of William Faulkner, who, when his due finally came, was too embittered to enjoy it. "If you're allowed to publish books, you have to count yourself lucky. You can't think about the rest of it."

He tells a story: a few months after the publication of his second novel, Take Me Back, Bausch was riding in a car with George Garrett, complaining about the book's reception, or lack thereof. Garrett -- a courtly, genial man, and a sort of mentor to Bausch -- listened to as much of this as he could take. Finally, he turned to Bausch. "What do you want?" Garrett snapped. "Do you want to be a celebrity or do you want to be a writer? They're going to publish your next book, aren't they?"

They were.

"Well, then," Garrett said. "What do you want?"

At the end of this story, Bausch doesn't laugh. "I always remember that," he says softly.

We let this wisdom sink in a while.

"Okay," Bausch says, brightening. "This priest cancels Mass, to go hunting. He's out in the woods, and suddenly a bear starts chasing him...."

—Mark Winegardner

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Simply a delight to read—wise, probing, and sympathetic, and beautifully written.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Bausch pulls the reader along in a prose that is as graceful as it is economical. He is one of our best writers.
Katherine Whittamore

"You don't have a lot of subtlety," says Alice to Walter. "This did not sound good," thinks 19-year-old Walter. "Subtlety was a good thing to have." It is a good thing, and it's not only lacking in poor Walter, but in the sorry novel he lumbers through, too. Richard Bausch's latest just doesn't click. The prose is too milkfed, for starters: "Her name was Natalie, and the sight of her took his breath away." And the plot is mini-series-esque. In the course of three weeks in 1964, young Walter meets mobsters, black civil rights fighters, white rioters and a drunk White House insider who just happens to choose Walter to tell about JFK's liaisons. Better yet, heartthrob Natalie turns out to have actually slept with He of the Bad Back. "I was one of the girls he had," she cries to ol' Walt. "Now do you see?"

Oh my. Throughout, events chime by with a wearisome, Forrest Gumpian meaningfulness; Walter's priest gets transferred "to this Vietnam place. . . A city called Saigon." His fiancee Alice says, uncannily, "I don't think Madison Avenue ought to be deciding presidential elections. . . If it keeps up, we'll end up with an actor. . . in the White House." The reader is supposed to feel a frisson, but the references are so forcibly entre-nous, they annoy more than hit home.

We get a Cuban Missile Crisis set piece, even a nod to the McCarthy era (Walters' Dad flirted with blacklisting). To be fair, there's a lunchroom sit-in scene that's not half bad -- Bausch writes well about the awkwardness of a white boy faced with black concerns. And some of his time capsule attempts, when he sticks to the details, work nicely. The air still smells of coal, Andy Williams plays on the hi-fi, "and there was the little mechanical sound of the player arm automatically lifting and returning to its cradle."

Certainly, Bausch gave Walter promising attributes for a novel's hero; he's a Kennedy wannabe Catholic kid, he tortures himself about mortal sins, he farcically gets engaged to two girls, and he attends a second-rate school of broadcasting (hence the Walter Winchell-ish title). Comic possibilities all, but the boy's so bland, he makes Zelig look positively deep. "It's like I'm all air inside," says Walter. Then why, Mr. Bausch, write a book about him? -- Salon

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea

Chapter One

The other students still enrolled in the D'Allessandro School for Broadcasting in the fall of 1964 had heavy responsibilities and worries, and were making sacrifices to come to school. Lately it had seemed to Walter Marshall as if there were some general discouragement these students were all stoically enduring to continue acquiring their training, though Mr. D'Allessandro himself was always cheerful, and went about his business in the usual meaningless hurry. He had a big ring of keys attached to his belt, and each evening he opened his office with a great jingling of the keys and breathless protestations about how pressed for time he was. Everything he did, every aspect of the school's operations, took place in the same hectic rush.

The building that housed the school was old--it had been erected during the presidency of Andrew Jackson--and occasionally the lights flickered or went out, as though something in the heart of the structure had failed momentarily. There were holes in the plaster of the ceilings in the corridors, and some of the wainscoting had come away from the walls of the rooms; the radiator pipes made an awful pounding noise in cold weather, when they worked at all. And if the building itself was dilapidated, the school's equipment was not much better--several student desks were falling apart; some of the switches on the electronic console in the sound booth were broken; there were sheets of baffling dangling from the ceiling in the studio; only one of the phones worked. Mr. D'Allessandro had cut down on the electricity as much as possible, and was economizinginother ways: When the toilet in the men's bathroom broke, instead of calling a plumber he had fashioned a small cardboard sign for the one good bathroom: occupied (the U was closed at the top, so it looked as if it said occupied); because the radiator in his office was unpredictable and worked on its own undiscoverable schedule, he could be found some winter evenings sitting at his desk wearing a coat.

In the middle of all these homely concessions to frugality, Walter Marshall felt more than a little guilty: His tuition had been paid for out of an inheritance from his father; and just as it was becoming clear to his classmates that he had the best prospects for landing a job after graduation--he was already spending some Saturday mornings taping sixty-second commercials in English to be run during a South American public affairs program on Sunday afternoons--he had let it be known that he was no longer interested in broadcasting as a career.

So while the others struggled to meet their payments and to fulfill the responsibilities that were weighing them down--and while Mr. D'Allessandro himself seemed more harried and threadbare than ever--Marshall was coasting through only in order that the money already spent would not be wasted.

Aside from Albert Waple, who had been friendly from the first days, the other students had begun keeping a certain distance. There was never any unpleasantness--but in fact they now possessed more shared experience to talk about, since together they had also begun to arrive at the painful conclusion that the resources they were spending on this training might as well have been spent on something else.

There was Ricky Dalmas, who at twenty-two was onlythree years older than Marshall, but who already had a wife and two children. During the days, he worked in an auto shop behind the parts counter, and barely made enough money to pay his rent. Of course he could not afford payments on a car. School nights, his wife packed sandwiches for his evening meal, and sent him trudging through the weather to school. Often, he had part of a sandwich with him to eat during the break, and when he did not have anything, he watched the others eat their candy bars and snack crackers. No one offered him anything, because he always refused and always seemed vaguely affronted by the offer. He kept an unlighted pipe in his mouth a lot of the time, bringing it out and holding it up as if to savor its aroma before he spoke. This was a nervous gesture, unconscious as a blink, and it was rendered all the more awkward by the fact that you could see him striving to be the sort of person who held a pipe a certain way--a man pondering troubles, the complexities of existence. Each night he wore the same dark green sport coat with patches on the sleeves, and his hair always dangled over his forehead, black, straight, and with a sheen like polish. At times the dark forelock looked exactly like that of Adolf Hitler in the photographs, but no one ever mentioned this. The pipe had a chip in its stem, and he had a chipped tooth, and it was difficult not to connect the two, somehow, as though there had been some kind of collision in his past having to do with the pipe. He had not finished high school, and was now having some trouble with the required work. His best hope for the future, according to Mr. D'Allessandro himself, was to find a job selling advertising time or something.That was as near as he would ever get to a real job in broadcasting, and Mr. D'Allessandro had been straight with him about it. He would never work the microphones, because his voice was too high-pitched, his ear for where emphasis ought to fall too weak. "There's no way to fake a tin ear," Mr. D'Allessandro told him.

Yet each night, as part of the second-year training schedule, Dalmas was required to read out some advertising copy, which--as was nearly always immediately evident--he had taken the trouble to write himself.

You know, death is always inconvenient, but to make it even more convenient, try Gausson's Funeral Home on West Pike Street in Landover Heights. That's Gausson's Funeral Home, the place to bring your family and friends during moments of grief . . .

There was Joe Baker, thirty-one years old, a civil servant now, though until the year before last he had been an elementary school teacher, in Alabama. He had been with the National Guard there during the riots three summers ago. "They had me guarding a church in Montgomery," he told Marshall in the first minutes of their acquaintance. "After the Freedom Riders came in and this mob went after them. That was a world of hurt. A bunch got away from the mob and gathered in this old church. A lot of the famous ones, too. I mean the whole boatload of Civil Rightsers--King himself was in there--making speeches and singing. It was something. Didn't know if anybody'd get out alive, least of all me. I believe in integration, too. I do. You know why? I think it's good for business. A lot of Southerners do. Even the ones raising all the hell. Like the bus-company owners. That's the most ridiculous thing in the world. Everybodyknows they need the Negro's business--can't survive without it. And here they are insisting on this back of the bus shit. For the sake of form. All knee-jerk shit, you see? They're afraid to look at it differently. And then everybody's afraid of the crowd." He was also married, with three daughters, one of whom occasionally came with him to class. She looked nothing like her father, and he teased that this was one of God's mercies to the country. Baker was heavy-jowled, and pug-nosed, and wore a flattop haircut that showed the crown of his scalp. His mouth was crowded with teeth, especially on the bottom row, and they made his jaw stick out. The starched white shirt he always wore was invariably rolled up at the sleeves, showing powerful, almost hairless forearms. He possessed a good radio voice, but could not distinguish the tones needed--again, a problem of emphasis. When he spoke into the microphone, you could hear authority and confidence, but there was no music in it; it sounded flat, almost machine spoken--which was not at all the way he sounded simply talking. His ambition was to work his way up to sports announcer.

Only auto accident I ever had, it was summer, I was going slow in traffic, bumper to bumper, and I saw this beautiful girl--this vision, you know?--come walking out of a bank over on H Street. I couldn't take my eyes off her, and--bang!--I hit the guy in front of me. I'm--what--eighteen years old, scared shitless, and out of the car this old, old man comes, all bent over with a cane. He walks slow, back to the window of my car, leans in and without quite looking at me says, "That's all right, son. I saw her, too." Then he turns around and walks back to his car and gets in,and that's just the way I want to be when I'm eighty-five . . .

There was Martin Alvarez, whose uncle worked at the FCC, and who claimed to have important connections there. Even these, he seemed to be saying at times, would do him no good. He was twenty-eight or twenty-nine, unmarried, and it was hard to know much else about him, since he never wanted to come out with the other students after classes and he seldom talked about himself. Big-shouldered and dark and round-faced, he spoke with an accent that made the others wonder why he was not the one doing advertisements for South American Radio. One of his eyes had a white fleck of something in it, and when he looked at you, with his white smile and his enthusiasm, the fleck made you think of helpless children in dire circumstances.

My favorite guy een show business ess thees guy Bert Pahks. Mos'talented guy I have ever seen, mun. No sheet. I saw him perform at thees club las' year, almos' keel me, mun . . . Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea. Copyright ? by Richard Bausch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet 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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