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Someone to Watch over Me

Someone to Watch over Me

by Richard Bausch

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Richard Bausch is a master of the intimate moment, of the ways we seek to make lasting connections to one another and to the world. Gew writers evoke the complexities of love as subtly, and few capture the poignancy of the sudden insight or the rhythms of ordinary conversation with such delicacy and humor. To read these twelve stories--of love and loss, of families


Richard Bausch is a master of the intimate moment, of the ways we seek to make lasting connections to one another and to the world. Gew writers evoke the complexities of love as subtly, and few capture the poignancy of the sudden insight or the rhythms of ordinary conversation with such delicacy and humor. To read these twelve stories--of love and loss, of families and strangers, of small moments and enormous epiphanies--is to be reminded again of the power of short fiction to thrill and move us, to make us laugh, or cry. In these profound glimpses into the private fears, joys, and sorrows of people we know, we find revealed a whole range of human experience, told with extraordinary force, clarity, and compassion.

Editorial Reviews

Bette Pesetsky
Perhaps, on consideration, it is misleading to say that his characters are ordinary people, for against the unthinking rush of our current culture, they seek a pattern in life. They are inarticulate neither in voice nor thought. —New York Times Book Review
Richmond Times-Dispatch
Some writers seem to have an instinctive sensitivity to human emotion. They seem to be able to reach inside human experience, responding to its variety instead of its limitations, and they have the rarest of abilities to record the nuances of this experience to create literature. Richard Bausch...is one of those rare mater writers, and his power continues to grow.
Milwaukee Journal
Richard Bausch is a master of the short story...He brings to life characters and situations as vivid and compelling as any in contemporary literature. Bausch's literary voice is reminiscent of no one else's; he is an original.
Boston Globe
Among the most masterful of American fiction writers. . . . Employing a variety of tones and techniques...Bausch again casts colorful light on contemporary humanity, letting us see ourselves as in a glass, less darkly.
Wall Street Journal
Mr. Bausch's stories have a restorative quality. They demonstrate the power of crisp, unsparing lucidity. They may not cheer you up, but they'll make you glad you read them.
Entertainment Weekly
The essential mystery at the heart of every relationship is the subject of these twelve stories. What drives people together? What drives them apart? Revenge, boredom, sex—they're all here. . . . The landscape of the heart depicted here is less bleak than it sounds; what drives these stories is the belief that love is reachable just around the bend.
New York Times Book Review
As in his past work, Bausch aims for luminous simplicity. His stories radiate a conviction that you can eavesdrop on any life and find something worth hearing. . . .Bausch hovers over his characters like the guardian angel they all seek, like the perfect parent or spouse: respectful, patient, engaged, but never pushy, never obtrusive.
Lisa Zeidner
His stories radiate a conviction that you can eavesdrop on any life and find something worth hearing....Stories like Bausch's -- not showoffy but rich and satisfying -- look deceptively straightforward, but are in fact hard to pull off.
New York Times
Library Journal
In every human relationship there are defining moments--moments that clarify feelings and expectations and alter the fabric of our lives. It is just such moments that Bausch (In the Night Season, LJ 5/1/98) explores in the 12 stories (ten previously published) that make up this collection. It may be an anniversary dinner ruined because the restaurant was recommended by a former wife, or a ne'er-do-well but loving father handing his son a knife and suggesting that he and his brother rustle up some grub when the larder at their "vacation" cottage proves bare. The results may lead to a reignition of romance in the lives of a separated couple, a decision to shoot an abusive son-in-law, or a simple acceptance of the way things are. Bausch's approach is matter-of-fact, using the cadences of ordinary conversation and eschewing the edginess of so much current fiction. A rewarding read for those who appreciate good as opposed to flamboyant writing; suitable for any public or academic library.--David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Eric Grode
Mr. Bausch infuses his stories with a spare torment similar to that of Tobias Wolff, especially when he describes the disillusionment of young men...He also expertly depicts women who come to realize that their mates are less than ideal...Read individually...Mr. Bausch's stories have a restorative quality. They demonstrate the power of crisp, unsparing lucidity. They may not cheer you up, but they'll make you glad you read them.
The Wall Street Journal
Kirkus Reviews
In his fifth story collection, Bausch (In The Night Season, 1998, etc.) delightfully proves himself the chronicler of faults—not wrongs, but the shy, ambiguous, and sometimes disastrous ways we don'y quite get each other. This strong gathering (many of the peices were published earlier in the Atlantic, the New Yorker, Esquire, and elsewhere) limns characters who are usually certain there is a different, often better person within themselves trying to emerge through the obstacles of conversation, idle chatter, TV's white noise. A brush with violence (a schoolbus accident in "Valor"; a traffic jam shooting in "Two Altercations") is usually required to reveal the longings of this self, concealed behind habit, routine, and drab domestic fatigue. "Valor" shows a man mired in a slowly decaying marriage who acquires new vigor by saving the lives of children; he gains a vision of himself he can admire, but his wife is indifferent to it. The dislocations here are often psychological. In "Riches," a lottery winner's sudden wealth entraps him in a new identity that gives him a way to be himself. "Nobody in Hollywood," a story about the triumph of longing over truth, a young man's wife is profoundly changed by a pair of encounters with a woman whose cryptic personality lures away his brother and his own wife. From such inflicted cleavings, guilt, expectation, and insecurity waft up like a gas, and Bausch masterfully evokes their acrid residue, often with just a few phrases. Nobody has anybody else straight here–or, put differently in "Someone to Watch Over Me," an older man can't see his youthful wife as she sees herself and vice versa, which makes the bright spangle of happiness a capricious,happenstance joy. Short fiction is widely regarded as Bausch's strongest genre, and this engaging collection can only fortify that impression.

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Someone to Watch Over Me

Chapter One

{Late July, 1932}

Lily Brewster and her brother, Robert, sat in the dining room of the mansion known as Grace and Favor Cottage. Robert was at the head of the long table reading the New York Times and mumbling to himself as he sipped his morning coffee and grimaced. "Lily, is Mrs. Prinney watering this stuff down? It hasn't got any taste."

"I think she is. She said something chirpy about chicory tasting just like coffee." Lily nearly had to shout to be heard at the other end. Lily was, as usual, doing the household books and had receipts, scrap paper, pencil, and pen spread around her while she munched on her toast with her left hand.

Between them, halfway along, was their boarder, Phoebe Twinkle, the dainty young redheaded village milliner and seamstress. "Where is Mrs. Prinney?" she said, touching a napkin to her lips.

"Gardening. As usual," Lily said.

She closed her ledger and capped her late mother's fountain pen, tidied up her piles of paperwork, picked up her plate and silverware, and went to sit between the others so she didn't have to scream to be heard.

"Should this be worrying us, Robert? Or is she just taking up a new hobby?"

Robert, who was seldom without a grin and a smart crack, was uncharacteristically solemn. "Haven't you been to the greengrocer's lately? There's almost nothing there except what that local woman grows."

"But not even Roxanne Anderson can possibly grow enough for the wholetown," Phoebe put in.

"The farmer can't buy enough seeds or hire help," Robert went on. "The middleman can't afford to ship produce around the country, and that hurts the railroads. Dominoes falling. Or a downward spiral, if you want to look at it that way."

Lily had been working hard at trying (but failing) to ignore the country's deteriorating financial situation. She ran her hands through her hair and admitted, "I hate this. It just gets worse and worse. Thank goodness the Democrats have nominated Governor Roosevelt for President. At least he can't make more of a mess of the economy than Hoover."

"Unless it completely collapses before he takes office -- if he wins," Robert added. "The election is months away, and the new President doesn't take office until next March. Anything could happen by then."

"You think Hoover could be reelected?" Lily asked in alarm.

Robert looked at his sister and realized he'd frightened her more than he should have. Not that he wasn't terrified. While President Hoover made weekly announcements of how the economy was improving, it was obvious that everyday life for almost everyone was getting much, much worse. "No, Governor Roosevelt will be elected. He's the only governor who's actually done demonstrably good things for his own state. He's beaten the state legislature into funding a few public works projects. Now I've got to change clothes for my own project."

"And what's that?" Lily asked.

"With Mr. Prinney's permission I hired a couple of young men from the village, the Harbinger boys, to help me tear down the old icehouse. There's some good sturdy wood in it that someone could put to use."

"The icehouse? How will we cool things?" Lily asked.

"Not the one behind the pantry," Robert said, rolling his eyes. "The one in the woods."

Lily looked at him as if he were mad.

"You don't believe me?" Robert said. "Come take a look."

"No can do," Lily said. "Phoebe and I are on our way to a special meeting of the VLL."

"The VLL?"

"Robert, how could you forget?" Lily said. "The Voorburg Ladies League. It's the first meeting I've been invited to. It's quite an honor and might mean the village is accepting us as real people."

Robert made an exaggerated motion of slapping his head. "Stupid of me," he said sarcastically. "How can you bear to be around that White woman who runs it?"

Phoebe and Lily exchanged a look; Phoebe answered. "She's not really so bad when you get to know her."

Robert waved this away. "I've met her. To my sorrow. She's a runaway locomotive."

"But I hear she means well, Robert," Lily objected. "Her manner is bossy, but people say her ideas are usually good. She just got back from a visit to Philadelphia and told Phoebe she's had a brainstorm about how we can help others in Voorburg. An emergency meeting. Phoebe, are you ready to go?"

The two young women gathered their handbags and the canvas bag with their good shoes and set out to take the shortcut through the woods and down the hill to town. Though there wasn't much traffic on the road, it wound around so much that it was at least four times the length of the old Indian path from the hills overlooking the river.

They would change from their sturdy shoes to their nice ones once they were close to the village of Voorburgon-Hudson. Phoebe had alerted Lily that Mrs. White was obsessed with appearances, and while they wouldn't admit it to Robert, neither of them wanted to be accused of bad taste in footwear. Especially not by Mrs. White, who was always immaculately dressed, thoroughly corseted -- and well shod.

Phoebe Twinkle, who had been in Voorburg longer than Lily and seldom had access to an automobile, was much more surefooted on the steep path than Lily, but she held back with good grace and set her pace to her companion's.

"I don't really know very much about Mrs. White except that she scares me to death," Lily said to Phoebe. "Has she lived here long?"

"All her life, as far as I know," Phoebe said, pulling aside a branch of a decrepit maple that really should be trimmed. "My former landlady talks about knowing her since..."

Someone to Watch Over Me
. 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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