Wives and Lovers

Overview

Wives & Lovers is a collection of three short novels from the author whom the Boston Globe calls "one of the most expert and substantial of our writers."

Requisite Kindness — published here for the first time — tells the story of a man who must come to terms with a life of treating women badly when he goes to live with his sister and dying mother. Rare & Endangered Species demonstrates how a wife and mother's suicide reverberates in the small community where she lived, ...

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Wives & Lovers

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Overview

Wives & Lovers is a collection of three short novels from the author whom the Boston Globe calls "one of the most expert and substantial of our writers."

Requisite Kindness — published here for the first time — tells the story of a man who must come to terms with a life of treating women badly when he goes to live with his sister and dying mother. Rare & Endangered Species demonstrates how a wife and mother's suicide reverberates in the small community where she lived, and affects the lives of people who don't even know her. Finally, Spirits is about the pain that men and women can — and do — inflict upon each other. These three very different works illuminate the unadorned core of love — not the showy, more celebrated sort but what remains when lust, jealousy, and passion have been stripped away.

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Editorial Reviews

People (4 Stars)
“Haunting and beautifully crafted, these three short novellas showcase Bausch’s skill at eliciting readers’ compassion...leaves you wanting more.”
Seattle Times
“Superb … Bausch’s always deft touch seems to have become even more fine-tuned over the course of time.”
Entertainment Weekly
“These fascinating stories, written by someone who clearly delights in human foibles, deliver unflinching gut punches while remaining undeniably moving.”
Washington Post
“Bausch conveys a real perception of what e.e. cummings might call the power of life’s ‘intense fragility’.”
Denver Rocky Mountain News
“A first-rate collection of novellas that will break your heart and fill you with hope at the same time.”
Washingtonian Magazine
“Bausch’s emotional insight is staggering, and his talent [punctures] often-impenetrable battles of love and their aftershocks.”
People
“Haunting and beautifully crafted, these three short novellas showcase Bausch’s skill at eliciting readers’ compassion...leaves you wanting more.”
(4 Stars) - People Magazine
"Haunting and beautifully crafted, these three short novellas showcase Bausch’s skill at eliciting readers’ compassion...leaves you wanting more."
Entertainment Weekly
“These fascinating stories, written by someone who clearly delights in human foibles, deliver unflinching gut punches while remaining undeniably moving.”
Washington Post
“Bausch conveys a real perception of what e.e. cummings might call the power of life’s ‘intense fragility’.”
Seattle Times
“Superb … Bausch’s always deft touch seems to have become even more fine-tuned over the course of time.”
Denver Rocky Mountain News
“A first-rate collection of novellas that will break your heart and fill you with hope at the same time.”
Washingtonian Magazine
“Bausch’s emotional insight is staggering, and his talent [punctures] often-impenetrable battles of love and their aftershocks.”
People (4 Stars)
“Haunting and beautifully crafted, these three short novellas showcase Bausch’s skill at eliciting readers’ compassion...leaves you wanting more.”
Publishers Weekly
Bausch strikes another blow against sloppy, maudlin sentimentality with this slim gathering of three razor-sharp novellas. Straightforward but deeply affecting, his work, as usual, adds up to much more than the sum of its parts, with bright glimmers of hope visible through the fog of loss and misunderstanding. In "Requisite Kindness," the volume's only new novella, a man who has "never felt any ease in the society of his own house" grapples with the repercussions of his whiskey-and-women past while keeping a solitary, snowed-in vigil at his dying mother's bedside. The strongest of the three is "Rare & Endangered Species," a dispiriting study of the myriad ways that "it feels like starvation to be intimate with someone you can't really reach," about the inexplicable suicide of a seemingly unflappable grandmother-to-be. "Spirits" traces a college professor's meltdown as he sits out a late-summer Virginia heat wave with a serial adulterer and a serial killer's ex-wife for companionship. Every action and conversation in these compact novellas is like a shaft of light refracted through a prism: Bausch is constantly turning and refocusing, closing in on the blinding-white clarity of each story's conclusion. Agent, Harriet Wasserman. (July 8) Forecast: Following on the heels of a big collection of Bausch's short fiction (The Stories of Richard Bausch, 2003), this may be met with reader (and reviewer) fatigue, but it will reward the faithful. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
These three novellas-two of which were previously published-exhibit the usual concerns of Bausch's fiction: interpersonal relationships, tragic miscommunications, and the endurance of the human spirit. In "Requisite Kindness," the only new selection, the funeral of an elderly woman unites her son and grandson, both of whom have long-term marital and relationship problems and cannot get along in spite of (or perhaps because of) their commonalities. In "Rare & Endangered Species," a middle-aged woman commits suicide for no apparent reason, and her family and friends attempt to carry on. In "Spirits," a well-known professor offers his apartment to a young writing professor who has just accepted a job at the college. While waiting for his seemingly reluctant wife to join him, the young man becomes enmeshed in the private affairs of the absent professor and his lovely wife. Libraries that maintain current fiction collections will have likely purchased Bausch's earlier collections or his recently published volume of selected stories. However, this volume might make a nice, brief introduction to this highly regarded American writer for libraries that do not already have his work.-Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Short-story master Bausch (Someone to Watch Over Me, 1999, etc.) probes the tensions that seethe in families and marriages in three novellas, one previously unpublished. "Requisite Kindness," the new work, seems at first to cover the familiar territory of men who screw up and women who are tired of picking up after them, which is interesting enough, especially since Bausch's dialogue and character insights are as cogent as ever. But the tale deepens as it moves into the head of a man tending his dying mother, exploring his fears and regrets over a failed marriage and damaged children. The mother's passing is treated with a sad tenderness quite different from the cold finality of a suicide that drives the narrative in "Rare & Endangered Species," deservedly well-known as the title piece in a 1994 collection. As Bausch explores the fraught lives of Andrea Brewer's husband, children, and various people more loosely linked to her suicide, we see couples trying to reach each other across an abyss of guilt, anger, and shame: when one husband tries to stop an argument by saying "I love you," his wife snaps, "You use that like a club." Yet the tale expresses hope too, especially in its closing with the birth of the granddaughter Andrea will never see. "Spirits," from a 1987 collection by the same title, also swerves to a cautiously happy ending after delving into a young English professor's thoroughly nasty experiences while apartment-sitting for an older faculty member with a weakness for drink and vulnerable young women. At the same time, the young man's former landlady is fundamentally unnerved by the discovery, all over the local TV news, that her ex-husband is a serial killer of littlegirls. "You think you understand a man's spirit when you look in his eyes and he's your live-in partner for three years," she shudders-but she didn't, and in Bausch's world most people are strangers even to those they love best. A bleak vision, tempered by sensitive affection for human beings in all their frailty. Agent: Harriet Wasserman/Harriet Wasserman Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060571832
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/6/2004
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,071,053
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Bausch

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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Read an Excerpt

Wives & Lovers Chapter One After

December 22, 1994

The afternoon bus from Newport News was twenty minutes late, and the first five people who got off were Navy men. Brian Hutton's younger brother Norman was the last of them, looking leaner than Brian remembered him -- though it had only been a little more than a year. Twenty-four years old now, sixteen years younger than Brian. Life at sea obviously agreed with him. His skin was tan, his eyes clear; the musculature of his upper arms showed under the uniform. Everything about him made a contrast to the older brother, whose frame had begun to sag.

Norman said, "Hard times, Bro."

They embraced. "Hey," Brian said. He felt heavy and awkward. He stepped back and reached for his brother's duffel bag.

"I got it," Norman said, shouldering the bag. They stood gazing at each other. "Somehow I'd talked myself into thinking this day wouldn't come."

"Almost ninety-five," Brian said. "A good long life."

Norman nodded. "I still hate it."

"Dad and Aunt Natalie are at the funeral home. You want to clean up first, or go straight over?"

"Whatever."

"It's your call, Norm."

"Let's go see them."

They headed across the open lot of the station with its borders of freshly plowed snow piled high. They had to shield their eyes from the sun; the air was crisp and cold. All along the highway beyond the end of the station lot were telephone poles festooned with bright Christmas ribbons and tinsel. You had to enter the terminal building to exit out onto the street, and inside, a thin-faced smiling man in a dark business suit stood next to a largecardboard box of pocketsized Bibles. The box was sitting on a plastic chair. "Praise the Lord," he said, nodding deferentially, offering Norman one of the Bibles.

"Beat it," Norman muttered.

"Pardon?"

He walked on.

"Pardon?" the man said to Brian.

"Excuse me," Brian said.

Norman was waiting, smiling, by the door. "Check out his face, man. He's a confused evangelist now."

Brian let him pass through, then turned to look at the man with the Bibles, who was staring after them. He thought of going back to apologize.

From out on the sidewalk, his brother said, "Forget something?"

He stepped out and they walked along the street, toward the public parking lot up the block. "Just out of curiosity, Norman, what do you think Gram would've said about that particular exchange?"

Norman hefted the duffel bag higher on his shoulder. "Guy giving Bibles away in a bus station. I guess I'm home, all right."

"It's Bibles, Norm. What harm is in that?"

"I don't like it shoved in my face like that."

"But really -- what do you think Elena'd say?"

"I know," Norman said. "Okay? I know."

They walked on a few paces.

"So, you were there for it," Norman said. "What was that -- what did it -- " He halted.

"I was only there at the very end. It was Dad mostly. The whole eastern seaboard was snowbound. Aunt Natalie was down in Florida with a tour group, stranded at the airport. Dad and Gram were alone and they went through it that way, the two of them."

"Jesus."

"She feels awful for not being there when it happened."

They crossed the street and entered the municipal parkinglot. Norman shifted the duffel bag to the other shoulder. "God, I feel bad now. I don't know what gets into me. I can't help myself when that Bible stuff gets thrown at me, like it's a snack food or something. Gram never did that. Not once. I've got a roommate, man -- spouts Bible and chapter and verse all the damn time. You should see him -- he doesn't have pictures of his family or a girlfriend in his wallet, he's got pictures of Jesus and the saints. Most of the time it's like I'm the devil, because I want to drink a little whiskey now and then and go with the girls."

"Gram probably would've loved him."

"I said, 'I know,' okay?"

For a few minutes Brian couldn't recall where he put the car. He stopped and turned slowly, looking for it among the glaring shapes. The sun reflecting off the snow was brighter than it ever seemed in summer.

"Is Mom coming back?" Norman asked.

"It's too far. Um, she says. Under the circumstances."

"I figured. Christ. What about Tommy?"

"Tommy's with her."

"Well, it's a long way to come for a funeral. But Gram would come to theirs."

"It's having to be anywhere around Dad, isn't it?"

"I wasn't going to come out and say it."

Brian found the car, and opened the trunk. Norman threw the duffel bag in, then decided to retrieve something from it -- a small metal flask.

"My ration of vegetables," he said. "Corn. Can't be without it." He twisted the cap open and took a swig, then offered it to Brian.

"Thanks anyway," Brian said.

"A lot of nutrition in an acre of corn."

"I'll have some later."

"What about Tillie?" Norman asked. "Will she be there?"

"What do you think?"

"So the marriage and divorce are off."

"Funny," Brian said.

"She and Gram got along though. Gram liked her."

Brian said nothing. They got into the car. His brother took another swig from the flask and offered it again. He waved it off, starting the car. "Damn," Norman said. "I'd like to see Tillie."

"Tillie's gone," said Brian. Then he took the flask and drank from it, feeling the burn as it went down. Handing the flask back to his brother, he rested both hands on the steering wheel. "I'm not built for this shit," he said.

Norman smiled at him, holding up the flask. "That's what you keep saying, there, bro. But you keep getting yourself into it."

Wives & Lovers. Copyright ? by Richard Bausch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Requisite kindness
Rare and endangered species
Spirits
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First Chapter

Wives & Lovers
Three Short Novels Chapter One After

December 22, 1994

The afternoon bus from Newport News was twenty minutes late, and the first five people who got off were Navy men. Brian Hutton's younger brother Norman was the last of them, looking leaner than Brian remembered him -- though it had only been a little more than a year. Twenty-four years old now, sixteen years younger than Brian. Life at sea obviously agreed with him. His skin was tan, his eyes clear; the musculature of his upper arms showed under the uniform. Everything about him made a contrast to the older brother, whose frame had begun to sag.

Norman said, "Hard times, Bro."

They embraced. "Hey," Brian said. He felt heavy and awkward. He stepped back and reached for his brother's duffel bag.

"I got it," Norman said, shouldering the bag. They stood gazing at each other. "Somehow I'd talked myself into thinking this day wouldn't come."

"Almost ninety-five," Brian said. "A good long life."

Norman nodded. "I still hate it."

"Dad and Aunt Natalie are at the funeral home. You want to clean up first, or go straight over?"

"Whatever."

"It's your call, Norm."

"Let's go see them."

They headed across the open lot of the station with its borders of freshly plowed snow piled high. They had to shield their eyes from the sun; the air was crisp and cold. All along the highway beyond the end of the station lot were telephone poles festooned with bright Christmas ribbons and tinsel. You had to enter the terminal building to exit out onto the street, and inside, a thin-faced smiling man in a dark businesssuit stood next to a large cardboard box of pocketsized Bibles. The box was sitting on a plastic chair. "Praise the Lord," he said, nodding deferentially, offering Norman one of the Bibles.

"Beat it," Norman muttered.

"Pardon?"

He walked on.

"Pardon?" the man said to Brian.

"Excuse me," Brian said.

Norman was waiting, smiling, by the door. "Check out his face, man. He's a confused evangelist now."

Brian let him pass through, then turned to look at the man with the Bibles, who was staring after them. He thought of going back to apologize.

From out on the sidewalk, his brother said, "Forget something?"

He stepped out and they walked along the street, toward the public parking lot up the block. "Just out of curiosity, Norman, what do you think Gram would've said about that particular exchange?"

Norman hefted the duffel bag higher on his shoulder. "Guy giving Bibles away in a bus station. I guess I'm home, all right."

"It's Bibles, Norm. What harm is in that?"

"I don't like it shoved in my face like that."

"But really -- what do you think Elena'd say?"

"I know," Norman said. "Okay? I know."

They walked on a few paces.

"So, you were there for it," Norman said. "What was that -- what did it -- " He halted.

"I was only there at the very end. It was Dad mostly. The whole eastern seaboard was snowbound. Aunt Natalie was down in Florida with a tour group, stranded at the airport. Dad and Gram were alone and they went through it that way, the two of them."

"Jesus."

"She feels awful for not being there when it happened."

They crossed the street and entered the municipal parking lot. Norman shifted the duffel bag to the other shoulder. "God, I feel bad now. I don't know what gets into me. I can't help myself when that Bible stuff gets thrown at me, like it's a snack food or something. Gram never did that. Not once. I've got a roommate, man -- spouts Bible and chapter and verse all the damn time. You should see him -- he doesn't have pictures of his family or a girlfriend in his wallet, he's got pictures of Jesus and the saints. Most of the time it's like I'm the devil, because I want to drink a little whiskey now and then and go with the girls."

"Gram probably would've loved him."

"I said, 'I know,' okay?"

For a few minutes Brian couldn't recall where he put the car. He stopped and turned slowly, looking for it among the glaring shapes. The sun reflecting off the snow was brighter than it ever seemed in summer.

"Is Mom coming back?" Norman asked.

"It's too far. Um, she says. Under the circumstances."

"I figured. Christ. What about Tommy?"

"Tommy's with her."

"Well, it's a long way to come for a funeral. But Gram would come to theirs."

"It's having to be anywhere around Dad, isn't it?"

"I wasn't going to come out and say it."

Brian found the car, and opened the trunk. Norman threw the duffel bag in, then decided to retrieve something from it -- a small metal flask.

"My ration of vegetables," he said. "Corn. Can't be without it." He twisted the cap open and took a swig, then offered it to Brian.

"Thanks anyway," Brian said.

"A lot of nutrition in an acre of corn."

"I'll have some later."

"What about Tillie?" Norman asked. "Will she be there?"

"What do you think?"

"So the marriage and divorce are off."

"Funny," Brian said.

"She and Gram got along though. Gram liked her."

Brian said nothing. They got into the car. His brother took another swig from the flask and offered it again. He waved it off, starting the car. "Damn," Norman said. "I'd like to see Tillie."

"Tillie's gone," said Brian. Then he took the flask and drank from it, feeling the burn as it went down. Handing the flask back to his brother, he rested both hands on the steering wheel. "I'm not built for this shit," he said.

Norman smiled at him, holding up the flask. "That's what you keep saying, there, bro. But you keep getting yourself into it."

Wives & Lovers
Three Short Novels
. Copyright © by Richard Bausch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

From Richard Bausch -- "one of the most expert and substantial of our writers" (Boston Globe) -- comes a collection of three short novels that delve into the world of Wives & Lovers.

They hadn't ever been a family that was very good at telling their feelings. In Requisite Kindness, the family matriarch Elena dies, bringing together her family and all the pain that haunts them. Her son Henry who "never felt any ease in the society of his own house, his own wife and children" must not only come to terms with his mother's death but also his own dark past with women and the demons he has handed off to his son Brian.

It's kind of scary that it's there, like a place you go to. Suicide. A woman's suicide shatters the lives of her family and affects those who didn't even know her in Rare and Endangered Species. As they all struggle to find meaning in her seemingly meaningless act, they will be forced to find that place within themselves where they can balance despair with hope while trying to make it to the other side of a tragedy.

I had come into an area of my life that was utterly uncharted and dark. And in Spirits, a young teacher arrives at a small southern university where he is about to learn that things are not as they seem. Whether it is the exalted faculty member who offers him his apartment, the local motel owner who enjoys mothering him, or the wife back home who is scheduled to join him, all will rattle what he believes to be true in the world ... and in himself.

Questions for Discussion:

Wives & Lovers

  1. Consider the three titles in Wives & Lovers -- "Requisite Kindness," "Rare and Endangered Species," and "Spirits" -- and determine their meanings to their stories.

  2. Beyond the relationships between couples, these stories are linked by other elements including relocation, infidelity, and death. Examine these threads and discuss how each affects the main characters.

  3. Within the three stories, which couple or relationship do you find to be the most flawed?

"Requisite Kindness"

  1. In "Requisite Kindness," the first half, entitled After, is told from the perspective of Brian, the son; and the second half, Before, is told from the perspective of Henry, the father. How does this format -- both the change in perspective and the chronological reversal -- enhance the overall story?

  2. "She wasn't the kind of family member who made demands, yet one felt the force of her hopes like some exacting requirement" (page 8). Discuss the character of Elena and how she influences the other characters' lives, specifically those of Henry and Brian.

  3. "When a relationship begins in and is soaked in dishonesty, the dishonesty seeps into everything else" (page 15). Analyze Brian and Tillie's relationship -- why it failed and whether or not the author offers hope for reconciliation.

  4. "There isn't any bravery without fear. Fear is what the coward and the hero have in absolutely the same amount" (page 21). What does this statement say about the character of Henry?

  5. By the end of the novel, do you think that you have an understanding as to why Henry is angry with his son Brian?

"Rare & Endangered Species"

  1. Does foreshadowing exist regarding Andrea's death in the novel? If so, at what point?

  2. "One person's refusal to go on living made others turn and look at their own lives" (page 98). How did Andrea's death affect the other characters -- her husband Harry, her children James and Maizie, Gehringer, Ridley, and Pamela.

  3. Discuss the scene with the vultures and the cow. What does it contribute to the story?

  4. " ... all my married life I'd carried the feeling with me that the woman with whom I was spending my days lived her real life separate from me" (page 137). What does Harry's letter reveal about himself and his relationship with his wife?

  5. Andrea and Harry's relationship weathered an affair but ended in suicide. Do you view their marriage as a failure?

"Spirits"

  1. "You'd think somebody would've noticed something" (page 209). Do you believe Mrs. Sweeney never suspected anything about her husband's dark side or do you think, like many people, she uses denial as a way to preserve a moment in time as she wants to see it?

  2. "Sweeney and Brooker occurred to me then as though they were, together, the opposing principle—a naked manifestation of the forces that would always be lurking in the darker corners of the spirit" (page 223). Discuss our narrator's fascination with both William Brooker and Mr. Sweeney.

  3. Why does Maria Alvarez commit suicide after she learns of Brooker's separation?

  4. "There was a thing in us both that moved us in each other's direction, that made us recognizable to each other. Whatever our complications, this obdurate fact remained" (page 223). How do you feel about the narrator's relationship with his wife, both at the beginning of the story and the end?

  5. The author never gives us the name of our protagonist. Did you notice? If so, did it bother you? Why or why not?

About the Author

Richard Bausch is one of his generation's most celebrated fiction writers. He is the author of nine novels and five volumes of short stories. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, and many other national magazines and has been featured/anthologized in numerous "best of" collections, including the O. Henry Awards and Best American Short Stories. He is the recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and many other prizes and honors. He teaches at George Mason University and is the coeditor of the esteemed Norton Anthology of Short Fiction.

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