North

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Overview

Jack is driving north, away from the warm winters and wind-blown beaches of the Carolina coast, far from the shelter he has made for himself–a shelter against the past and the memory of his dead wife and child. A Manhattan lawyer has hired Jack to find her missing nephew, last seen in Upstate New York, the same place where Jack lost his family, and where as a campus security officer he was unable to save a girl from a murderer. Now, for Jack, it’s all about second chances–and ...

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Overview

Jack is driving north, away from the warm winters and wind-blown beaches of the Carolina coast, far from the shelter he has made for himself–a shelter against the past and the memory of his dead wife and child. A Manhattan lawyer has hired Jack to find her missing nephew, last seen in Upstate New York, the same place where Jack lost his family, and where as a campus security officer he was unable to save a girl from a murderer. Now, for Jack, it’s all about second chances–and what lies hidden in the ground.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A damn good book . . . the sort that gets you quickly in its grip and keeps you there.”
–The Washington Post Book World

“The much-anticipated sequel to Girls . . . With his spare, lyrical style straight out of Hemingway and Chandler, Frederick Busch has crafted another smart, big-hearted country noir.”
–Stewart O’Nan, author of The Good Wife and The Night Country

“Busch’s superb prose is mesmerizing; he evokes Jack’s psychic turmoil perfectly with expert language. . . . a provocative look at one man’s demons unleashed.”
–Baltimore Sun

“With the restraint of a master storyteller, Busch unfolds before us a tightly spun tale of past secrets and sadnesses. . . . a tender and tough and wonderful book.”
–Elizabeth Strout, author of Amy and Isabelle and Abide with Me

“A beautifully composed detective story.”
–New York Sun

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345486837
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/25/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.29 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Frederick Busch (1941–2006) was the recipient of many honors, including an American Academy of Arts and Letters Fiction Award, a National Jewish Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award. The prolific author of sixteen novels and six collections of short stories, Busch is renowned for his writing’s emotional nuance and minimal, plainspoken style. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he lived most of his life in upstate New York, where he worked for forty years as a professor at Colgate University.

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Read an Excerpt

BLOWBACK

In a marriage, you have to tell your secret. I came to believe that. But I also came to believe that my wife would die of ours. So I kept it to myself. The marriage ended. Fanny moved on in upstate New York. I went west and south. I didn’t know what to look for so I looked for work. I was all kinds of hired security in the usual dark, cheap uniform that was always tight across the chest and shoulders or too short from the tails to the neck. One way or another, I worked with a patch of skin showing.

When we were together the dog tried to look after us. Whenever Fanny cried he thumped his tail against the floor. He’d done it since we got married. Sometimes it was the sound of his tail that lifted us out of that minute’s misery.

He always knew what he was supposed to do, even after Fanny left with nothing but a couple of suitcases and some cardboard boxes and a cheap urn filled with ashes. He and I were together in New York and then New Mexico and across the Southwest. We went directly west for a while and then we went south and then we headed east. We stopped on the Carolina coast. I had been a military policeman, a deputy sheriff in three counties and two states, a campus cop in northern New York, a head of strip mall security in Arizona, department store security in Portland, Oregon, and a guard in a private psychiatric clinic not far from Eugene. I was climbing slowly down the ladder of police work. I figured soon I would be a half-drunk bouncer in a porn palace in a medium-sized city I hadn’t heard of yet in a state I hadn’t meant to visit.

Sometimes I still couldn’t get warm. I woke up out of my life in air-conditioned rooms and the hot, wet countryside of the Carolina coast. Then I was back in the world made of snow again and the winds that came down from Canada. I would brew a pot of coffee in the tiny kitchenette of my efficiency apartment. Maybe I would sweeten the coffee with sour mash. I would stand there cupping the white china mug like it was a bowl of live coals in a blizzard.

It was me and the dog before the marriage and during it and afterward for fifteen years. I was the one who questioned everything I did. He was the one who always knew what he should do. His work included guiding me on missions whether or not he understood what they were or where we had to go. He protected me under any circumstances. He assisted me by carrying objects encountered on the ground. In the truck he rode to my right. He was at my left ankle when we walked. He was in charge of observing any creature that wasn’t us.

He usually came with me when I did my rounds of the resort that employed me to keep the guests safe from each other and the usual infiltrators of places like that. I watched for whores of both sexes, petty thieves, the occasional rapist, a variety of grifters. Security was made up of me and moonlighters from area police departments and Maurice Pettey. He was known as Mo. He was a guard at East Carolina and a B+ student in economics the color of weathered cherrywood boards. He was the size of a small bulldozer. The football season of his senior year was coming up and he thought he might get himself drafted the following spring by the NFL. “This here is my ticket,” he said while he pounded his own hard ass with his giant fist. “My muscle is my mo-dus-op-or-end-I,” he said. “You want the ticket, you got to hump the bale.” He grew short-tempered because he was working out harder in his off time and he was cutting down on snacks. “I am growing agile, mobile, hostile, and erectile,” he told me. He felt peckish, he said. That was his grandmother’s word. On the job he’d grown mean. He was watchful and bright. He talked a mixture of television and what I thought of as poetry and the teachings of his grandmother.

He was peckish, he said, when he dismissed from the beach-view dining room an ensign, the ensign’s new wife, and her parents. He got offended when the drunk ensign kept calling the chilled Pouilly-Fuisse “pussy foosy.” Several days later he dislocated the finger of a woman who tried to cut his face up with her long fingernails after he mistook her for a hooker working the bar. “Wouldn’t you of mistook her for a whore?” he asked the night manager as the woman sat on her barstool behind him. She went for his face. He turned and caught her hand and then tossed it away from him. The move dislocated her index finger and brought in the first law enforcement convention of the summer season. There were state police, sheriff’s deputies, a carload of Shore Patrol and enough emergency medical technicians clustered around the weeping guest to give you the impression they were treating her for a shotgun wound to the upper thorax. I begged the management to keep him on for two more weeks so he could leave for early practice with another salary packet in his jeans.

The second law enforcement convention occurred in the first week of August. I wasn’t on duty but I decided to hang around the resort that night because Mo was now two days away from reporting to campus for practice and he was hungry all the time. I came alone because the dog was in pretty bad shape. He had to work hard to breathe these days. His muzzle was much milkier. His eyes had the dull glaze they get when the lenses harden. But it was his breathing that told you he was in trouble. The larynx muscles were paralyzed so his airway didn’t open wide enough for him to draw a decent breath. The surgery with heavy anesthesia was a long procedure and neither of the vets I’d talked to would promise he would survive or even feel a good deal better. Generally I tried not to ask for promises. This time I did. The vets couldn’t give me a guarantee. So the dog and I walked very slowly together while he heaved for breath and growled down whatever air he could. He sounded like the drain of a kitchen sink when it emptied. It didn’t help him that his hips were crippled from dysplasia and the forelegs stiff with arthritis. We walked side by side. We took our time.

I was in the big bar on a Thursday night when it was crowded with a package tour on a long weekend as well as the usual officers from the base. As far as I could see there weren’t any female whores. There was one man you might call a gigolo. He was a service reject in his thirties named Jason Arnold who worked the available older women with some success because he was tall and tan and what I guess you might call sleek. I had banned him but I was only a costume cop and he knew it.

I asked Robbie, the college kid bartender who shaved his head daily but his chubby cheeks rarely, for a glass of mineral water with ice. I held the cold glass against my cheek and stared at Jason Arnold. Nothing intimidated him but I thought I ought to try. He was talking to a woman nearly six feet tall with big shoulders who was wearing a dress cut off in back under the shoulder blades. She looked uncomfortable and I couldn’t tell whether it was because of the dress or Arnold. He was moving his hands in the air imitating how pilots do it. They usually did it gracefully. Arnold looked like his hands were going to fall onto her shoulders or her chest. Her back blushed and I enjoyed watching the color come up over her skin. She had shiny dark hair and a crooked nose. She was trying to keep acting dignified, I thought. And he was probably talking about sex. I waited to see if she needed me. I reminded myself that my job consisted of maintaining a pleasant social atmosphere and not of deciding which women needed guidance and protection.

Arnold put his hand on her back. She sat on her barstool a second or two without moving. Then she leaned forward away from the hand. The hand went with her. She looked up sharply. He put his hand on her ass and held it there. She said something I didn’t hear and I went there.

I stood behind Arnold. A chunky, bucktoothed woman to his right who I recognized as local turned around on her stool to ask me, “You going to break anybody’s hand tonight?”

“No, ma’am,” I said. “That would be my young colleague, Maurice. He’s patrolling the grounds right now, I believe. But he’ll be here soon. Excuse me.”

Arnold’s back was rigid. I told it, “I wish you’d consider working someplace else tonight.”

The woman to his left with the blushing back was facing me now. She said, “Working?”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

She said, “Oh, Jesus. I didn’t—well, I did. Can you believe it? I did. And I’m a lawyer.”

“Well, ma’am, they say he’s a charmer.”

Arnold got down from his stool and tried to tower above me. Since we were pretty much the same height, that wasn’t easy for him. He was broad enough, with thick forearms to prove how hard he worked with weights. His jeans were tight and they had a crease pressed into the legs. They were cut to show just enough of his cowboy boots for you to appreciate they were made of the skin of something unusual that was dyed black and red. He looked at me like I amused him.

The bucktoothed woman struck me as a lot of fun. Her eyes were merry and fond of trouble. She said to the older man to her right, “I think he’s going to break somebody’s hand.”

“It was a dislocated finger, ma’am,” I said, “and you’ll have to consult with Mr. Pettey about that.”

“Well, we’ll see,” she said.

The lawyer with the uncomfortable dress and the blue-green eyes had a broad mouth that must have been a liability in the courtroom. It told me just how silly she thought she had been and it was asking if I might be able to give her a hand. Her voice was low and a little harsh. I couldn’t imagine it whining. She said, “What kind of mess are we in?”

“He and I will get the whole thing done in a minute or two. I’ll try and make sure you aren’t embarrassed.”

“Oh,” she said, “I’ve been to embarrassed. Now I’m halfway to humiliated on the number Nine express. That’s on the New York City subway system.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. Then I said to Jason Arnold, “We need to exit the premises.”

He stepped back. He spread his long, thick arms. He crooned, “I stand before you, ladies, free, white, and twenty-one.”

The bucktoothed woman said to the man beside her, “He’s ten years older than that if he’s a day. And I wouldn’t wave no hands around in the air inside of this place, with its reputation for breaking them and all.”

“No, ladies,” Arnold said, “I have the strength of twelve tonight, and I am ready to serve and service one and all.” His face was very sweaty, dark red, and I didn’t think it was only from the Manhattans on the rocks he’d been drinking.

“Okay,” I said. “I want you to do your service in a tavern someplace down the road. You’re a free man and this is a free country. But it’s a private hotel. I get to pick who stays and who goes. You go.” I went for the basic come-along. You grab a finger and you turn their hand palm-up and then you lift, bending back, at the same time. It’s fast, simple, and no one resists. The body doesn’t allow it.

“You told me you wouldn’t break no fingers,” the bucktoothed woman said.

“I really don’t want to break anything,” I told her. I lifted his hand to move him along and he couldn’t help rising onto his toes. But he was gritty and maybe he was flushed from chemicals. Something drove him right through the pain and it must have been considerable. He went for my Adam’s apple and he squeezed it. He snarled. I reacted without thought. I’d been trained to. I snapped his pinky or his ring finger and freed my right arm. He was still throttling me when I used the right. If there is trouble and a man leaves his midsection exposed then you go for it, and especially if he seems drunk or amped on coke or amphetamine. Someone that highly cranked is all energy and no mind. The solar plexus will stop them. I swiveled my hips and drove my fist maybe six inches into the meat below where his ribs met above the stomach. I got into those nerves with enough power to make him stand absolutely still. All his motion stopped and then his mouth opened while his face went white. Then he caved in over his gut and went down into a ball on the floor. He made awful noises and I felt sorry for the guests who had to hear them. I noticed that the lawyer was looking at me and not at Jason Arnold. I noticed that I was looking at her instead of him.

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Reading Group Guide

1. “It was a warm day for upstate New York but mild compared to where I’d been living. I had gone there to get away from the cold. I thought maybe the cold made me feel the other feelings stronger.” (page 81) Girls, the novel in which Jack and his dilemma are introduced, takes place in the coldest part of winter in upstate New York, and North takes place in late summer in the same region. How does the weather affect Jack? The story? How might North be different if it took place in winter?

2. “Why did you really come back? . . . You were right to stay away. So I mean why really? This is where it all blew up in the air in pieces on you and the pieces never all came down. Why in hell would you ever come back?” (page 67) Why does Jack return to upstate New York, the place he had to leave?

3. Merle Davidoff calls Jack a rescuer. Do you agree?

4. Jack was too late to save Merle’s nephew, but he managed to find him. In what ways was this discovery significant for Jack? What else had Jack been looking for?

5. How does Jack react to Elway’s illness? How is this a reversal of their roles?

6. “I thought how I had become a specialist in knowing what the people I cared about the most should never know.” (page 172)
Jack keeps grave secrets to protect others. Why does Jack shoulder this burden? Do we all do this?

7. Could Jack and Fanny have saved their marriage, or was their paradoxical secret an insurmountable problem? Do you think Jack could have saved Fanny?

8. Jack reveals his secrets to the reader very slowly and in pieces. Did you trust that he would reveal the whole story?

9. Why does Jack tell Elway the truth about his daughter’s death? Would Jack have told him if he were conscious?

10. One night, Jack abstains from adding sour mash to his coffee and thinks, “If I started in treating myself too generously, I thought, I might come to expect that sort of kindness from me all the time.” (page 127) Why does Jack have trouble being kind to himself?

11. What was Jack seeking in his affair with Georgia Bromell? Was he just looking for her part of the story, or, as she claimed, did he want her for other reasons? What about his affair with Sarah? What did he seek from her? What might he find with Merle if he pursues their relationship?

12. Clarence Smith charges that Jack doesn’t like the idea of losing control. He says Jack is control. What hasn’t Jack been able to control? How has his need for constant control influenced his choices?

13. When Jack realizes that Georgia plans to shoot him and not Clarence Smith with the carbine, he says, “Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely. I mean, why not? On account, Georgia, of my absolutely flat-out not giving a good fucking goddamn. That’s the why and that’s the not.” (page 278) What makes Jack realize he does care if she shoots him? What makes Jack want to live?

14. “How many ways had I betrayed [Elway]? This idea carried over too well to Fanny and our child and to Sarah and other people who had cared about me.” (page 271) In what ways has Jack betrayed them? In what ways has he been loyal and good to them?

15. How has Jack changed over the course of the novel? Do you think he’ll keep his word and be in touch with Sarah and Merle?

16. Sarah tells Jack that he could be a happy person. Does Jack agree with her? Do you agree with her?

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    The story line is character driven though filled with plenty of action

    Jack works as a security guard at a bar in a North Carolina resort. His wife left him years ago as his career in law enforcement has gone downward on the ladder of success. Always hoping for reconciliation, Jack now has to accept that is impossible because Fanny has died. He has as his only companion his nameless canine who Jack knows is dying too.----------------- When male prostitute Jason Arnold tries to pick up a classy looking six footer, Jack intercedes. The woman, New York attorney Merle Davidoff, thanks him for his intervention and admits she is embarrassed to learn the hunk is a whore. She offers Jack work to find her missing twenty-three year nephew Tyler Pearl, who last was heard from a few months ago in Vienna, New York. Jack takes the job in his hometown as a chance to redeem himself by rescuing the young man if needed even though Jack feels as if he has failed at everything he has tried to do which includes once not saving a little girl¿s life in Vienna.------------ This sequel to GIRLS returns Jack as the prime protagonist still failing in everything he has done until Merle gives him a chance for atonement (at least in his mind). The story line is character driven though filled with plenty of action as Jack sees an opportunity to climb out of the ooze he has fallen into before he fulfills his self-prophecy of slinking as low as a former military police officer can go. The mystery is well done but takes a back seat to a psychological thriller starring a man whose ¿significant other¿ over the last fifteen years is his recently deceased nameless dog.------------- Harriet Klausner

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