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Thanksgiving Night

Thanksgiving Night

by Richard Bausch

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Will Butterfield can't believe it. His 75–year–old mother, Holly, is drunk and threatening to jump off the roof. Again.

Holly and Fiona, another elderly relative, won't stop tormenting Will and his wife Elizabeth with their bizarre (though often amusing) antics. Between Will's worries about his bookstore, The Heart's Ease, and Elizabeth's


Will Butterfield can't believe it. His 75–year–old mother, Holly, is drunk and threatening to jump off the roof. Again.

Holly and Fiona, another elderly relative, won't stop tormenting Will and his wife Elizabeth with their bizarre (though often amusing) antics. Between Will's worries about his bookstore, The Heart's Ease, and Elizabeth's troublesome high school students, dealing with "the crazies" has become just too much.

But then something unexpected happens –– Henry Ward, a neighborhood handyman, meets the two old women, and he, his daughter Alison, and grandchildren are drawn into the Butterfields' lives in surprising ways. Both a comedy and a love story –– a first for Bausch –– Thanksgiving Night is about the real meaning of family, and one particular clan that has many reasons to be thankful.

Editorial Reviews

Chris Bohjalian
Bausch consistently mixes good cheer and humor with longing and (on occasion) despair, sprinkling them all into this satisfying feast of a book that feels authentic and wise. Sure, it's clear that by the time this whole extended crew gathers at Thanksgiving most of their problems will have been resolved. But Bausch is such a companionable writer, and his characters so consistently genuine, that I never stopped turning the pages with enthusiasm, wonder and a delight in life's endless possibilities.
— The Washington Post
Meg Wolitzer
In his new novel, Thanksgiving Night, Richard Bausch displays a bracing, unapologetically old-fashioned sensibilty. Using the time-honored tradition of putting a holiday in a strategic narrative position, he shows us the insular, byzantine world of a family and its assorted friends and neighbors in the fictional town of Point Royal, Va.

Old-fashioned novelists tend to be generous, and Thanksgiving Night comes with broad swaths of detail, abundant quirks and lots of human suffering, as well as low-key lyricism. The actual story…somehow remains intact as the narrative shambles toward the Thanksgiving holiday.

Could Bausch have been a bit more parsimonious? Could he have left out a few of the minor citizens of Point Royal? Probably. And if he'd done so, his book would have been just as satisfying. Then again, Thanksgiving Night doesn't suffer under the weight of its actual bounty. It's as if Bausch had set out to create the biggest dining table he could find, then put everyone he could think of around it.
—The New York Times

Publishers Weekly
A house in Point Royal, Va., serves to entangle two families in clannish chaos. When local handyman Oliver Ward is summoned for a job at the house of Holly Grey and her aunt Fiona, he has no idea what to make of the two squabbling, headstrong old ladies who want to divide-literally-their house in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The two are known as "the Crazies" by Holly's son, bookstore owner Will Butterfield, and his wife, high school teacher Elizabeth, who are growing weary of their antics. But they pay Oliver, who begins working at the ladies' house. Oliver's daughter, policewoman and single mother Alison, is later called in to help talk Holly off the roof during a drunken dispute. Meanwhile, Will's grown children, Mark and Gail, from his first marriage (to another Elizabeth, who abandoned the family) are in disagreement over whether they should hunt down their long-gone mother. There are digressions: Gail's sexual identity is an open question; Elizabeth's students are fractious; Will finds himself tempted by a sexy, none-too-stable bartender. When Oliver has a stroke on the job, the two families are thrown together at Holly and Fiona's as the Thanksgiving holiday draws nigh. Author of nine novels and five story collections, Bausch (Wives & Lovers) engages stock characters and a predictable theme of holiday forgiveness this time out, but he injects some crackle into the heartwarming elements. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Caught in the middle of two pairs of warring relatives, middle-aged Will Butterfield feels helpless to control much of anything in his life. The "Crazies" are two old women who happen to be Will's mother and great-aunt. Their late-night calls, fueled by alcohol, give neither used-bookstore owner Will nor his much-younger second wife, Elizabeth, much rest. When the Crazies aren't tearing up his household, his adult children from his first marriage are. Still, Will and Elizabeth's solid, loving marriage weathers the squalls-that is, until Will allows himself to be seduced by his unstable neighbor, which destroys the fragile balance of everyone around him. In his tenth novel (after Hello to the Cannibals), Bausch elevates familial squabbling to an art form, offering a funny, tender look at a small group of small-town Virginians whose lives intersect, collide, and regroup around the 1999 Thanksgiving holiday. He turns enough fictional conventions on end to lure the reader deeper into the heart of his wounded characters, struggling for decency and forgiveness. Strongly recommended.-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The interactions of several incomplete and varyingly dysfunctional Virginia families produce both sparks of contention and seeds of potential growth and change in Bausch's amiable tenth novel (Wives & Lovers, 2004, etc.). The setting is the town of Point Royal, described in an omniscient overview as an uneasy mixture of southern charm, quasi-aristocratic elegance and trendy crass commercialism. This is where middle-aged Will Butterfield runs The Heart's Ease bookstore and his second wife, Elizabeth, teaches high school-and where Will's now-adult children Gail and Mark grew up, then effectively fled from, after their mother (also named Elizabeth) had deserted her family, years earlier. It's 1999; specifically, the months leading up to "the last Thanksgiving of the century." But thankfulness is not unalloyed. Will's widowed mother, Holly Grey, lives in a rambling old house on Temporary Road, in a perpetual state of impending war with her aunt Fiona (her grandfather's "late-life child"-it's complicated), whose eccentricities peak, as it were, when she sends Holly to camp out on the roof of their home. Local carpenter Oliver Ward, a widower with an occasional drinking problem, first butts heads, then becomes best friends, with "the Crazies" (as Elizabeth and Will ruefully label Holly and Fiona). When Oliver is hospitalized following a mild stroke, his divorced policewoman daughter Alison makes nice with rootless handyman Stanley, while her sensitive teenager Jonathan eludes menacing schoolmates like the hulking underachiever (Calvin Reed), who's also harassing Elizabeth. Meanwhile, pastor John Fire (aka "Brother Fire") labors to aid these embattled souls, struggling to retain his waveringfaith and refrain from murdering a younger cleric, who writes hilariously bad devotional poetry. Then Will attracts the attention of sexpot bartender Ariana. . . . The book sounds like fun, and often is, despite shapeless dollops of overextended exposition and uncomfortably close echoes of Richard Russo's Pulitzer-winner, Empire Falls. Bausch's engagingly deranged characters hold our attention, and somehow muddle through, in one of his more interesting and readable longer fictions.
Entertainment Weekly
“Kooky relatives, drunken antics, and near-death experiences are fodder enough for three tomes. For this, we are thankful.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“It’s a subtle, slyly accomplished feat, and Bausch brings his disparate storylines together in a powerfully moving finale.”
Washington Post Book World
“(A) satisfying feast of a book that feels authentic and wise.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Beautifully told. ... Bausch supplies plenty to go around, just as one would wish on any Thanksgiving night. ”
New York Times Book Review
“Bracing, unapologetically old-fashioned. Bausch’s novel is also filled with sudden displays of emotion.”

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Read an Excerpt

Thanksgiving Night

By Richard Bausch

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006

Richard Bausch

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060094435

Chapter One


From the first overlook of the Sky Line Drive, heading south, you can only see the old part of Point Royal--washed in hazy distance, an intricately laced aggregate of antique houses and white steeples, set among many shades of blue and green and tawny summer. A sleepy, lovely, Virginia country setting.

Up close there are, of course, the complications of the age.

Antebellum porches mixed in with two-car garages and fast-food chains; an Internet café in a glass-front, low-slung building within a block of a town hall that is almost two hundred years old--all of this across from a parking lot and a red-brick radio station with flags out front and a skinny seventy-foot tower behind.

On the radio station lately there's mostly talk, and the subject is invariably the president and his recent troubles. The call-in shows are full of moral outrage. The news, even now, six months after the Senate's acquittal, is still full of the names: Starr, Hyde, and the women, Slick Willy's women, all the way from back when he was governor of Arkansas to the uneasy present, with its rumors of war and the threat of general shutdowns as a result of Y2K. Religionists are growing more strident, and there's apocalyptic zaniness all around, starting with the Hale-Bopp suicide crowd, who expected that there would be a turnstile on thespaceship taking them beyond the stars, and so each one carried a ten-dollar roll of quarters on his person. The news media characterizes these people as intelligent. (One caustic voice on the radio points out that certainly the Hale-Bopp fruitcakes would look intelligent to the media.)

On the other side of the radio station, on a small, red-clay rise of ground, a strip mall that was built ten years ago languishes in weeds and wild flowers, crabgrass and dandelions; it's shut down and boarded, with postings advertising commercial space. The postings are wearing away in the weather.

Beyond the strip mall is a small used-book shop called The Heart's Ease.

Take a look at it now: this charmingly derelict-looking place, its windows stacked with the sun-faded spines of volumes, one on top of another as if they had all been arrested in the act of crowding to the openings to breathe. The paint is peeling on the porch, and the color of the trim is the exact shade of old paper. If you were to characterize the store or make a simile out of it, you might say it's like an elderly man nodding off to sleep. It faces into the sunny lot across the way, the gravel road veering to the left, toward the century-old brick-making factory, with its five house-sized stacks of new red bricks, and its weirdly attendant-seeming next-door neighbor, the ancient clapboard relic of a church, white-steepled Saint Augustine's. This church is a historic landmark, and is flanked by a shady lawn dotted with gravestones, carved dates and inscriptions going back to the eighteenth century. beloved mother; with the angels; lost to us.

It was once said that two people could leave at the same time from main street, one heading for the wildest hollow in the Blue Ridge and the other for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, and both would arrive at their destination at about the same time.

Now, one travels only minutes to be in what feels like the tatters of the city, and the thin blue roads that wind up into the mountains are lined with apartment complexes.

The Shenandoah River runs along the town's western edge, and on some hot summer days, after a little rain, it's muddy and so slow-running as to seem calm. Because of the willows dipping their filamental branches at the edge, you can stand on the highway bridge that crosses there and swear, from the look of it, that there is nothing but woods all around. Signs along the bank warn against swimming or fishing.

On Main Street, just now, the sharp shadows make pretty angles. You feel, gazing upon the scene, that you saw it somewhere in a painting, if only you could remember which one. It's three o'clock in the afternoon. The end of August. Stillness. Not even an airplane in the sky. Some celestial creature landing here might think the whole world a quiet place, deserted or abandoned.

But now a little wind stirs; a scrap of paper rises in the street, and a camp bus full of altar boys from Saint Augustine's comes rumbling along, followed by an old Ford pickup, covered with dust, which turns off onto a side street. The radio is on loud in the truck, an evangelistic rant, a frantic baritone crying the terrors of a thousand years.

It's the dog days of summer nineteen ninety-nine. And God is coming.

At an angle from the corner of the only intersecting street of this part of town is a small, white house, with a little porch, flanked by other houses of the same stripe, all of them built in nineteen fifty-nine and nineteen-sixty, when the country was not even ten years out of one undeclared war and already at the beginning of a new one. In the small window of the east-facing bedroom, an elderly woman sits turning the pages of a magazine with a sharp, swiping motion, as if each page contributes to a growing sense of an affront to her sensibilities. Behind her, another woman, also elderly, stands and folds laundry that she absently lifts from a basket in a chair. She puts the laundry on the bed. There's something about her apparent nonchalance that seems studied, done for effect--now and again, she monitors the page-turning of the other. She's dressed to go out. The other wears a blue bathrobe.

These two are surrounded by emblems of religion that seem to exist in an atmosphere of neglect, like bric-a-brac: Christ praying in the garden on one wall, and facing out, with radiating heart . . .


Excerpted from Thanksgiving Night
by Richard Bausch
Copyright © 2006 by Richard Bausch.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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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