In Requisite Kindness, a mother’s death reminds her son of his negligence in every facet of his life and how that instigated his own son’s path of impulsive destruction. The wintry backdrop of the Shenandoah Mountains—Bausch is a Virginia resident himself and teaches at George Mason University—intensifies the chilling moments before death: “She gave me a look and said that men in this family use each other’s sins as excuses—like there’s—how did she put it—like there’s some kind of innocence in collective guilt.”
Rare and Endangered Species depicts a woman’s suicide and the reactions that reverberate through a community. In a letter from her husband to their daughter, the line between love and its opposite bleeds into gray: “I wish she was in the next room. I wish she’d chosen some other way to deny us herself. I’d like to think of her being alive and happy, even if it had to be somewhere else . . . and even if I hated her for it.”
The unexpectedness of the woman’s actions—she was happy, her family thought—shows the debilitating dissatisfaction that can lie beneath the surface and how, when it erupts, it affects family and strangers alike.
Spirits closes the collection with a suggestion of hope: Men and women damage each other, but the language of misunderstood hate, once confronted, often translates into tenderness. The protagonist finds himself fantasizing about another woman when he moves to Virginia to take a job and wait for his wife to finish her master’s degree and join him, leaving the couple to crumble under the weight of the distance between them. That separation, compounded by his involuntary involvement with a colleague’s affair, sends him into a war between desiring his daydream and resenting his reality.
Bausch’s emotional insight is staggering, and his talent for dialogue and storytelling puncture often-impenetrable battles of love and their aftershocks. He throws a stone and watches the ripples spread.