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Richard Bausch: Violence

Apart from the appallingly soppy ending, this is a first-class book on violence and its effects on people. Charles and Carol Connally are a young, struggling married couple. He is studying and they are living off her earnings as a dental hygienist. However, she is pregnant, which puts those earnings in jeopardy. Neither is a stranger to violence. Charles was knocked around by his father, while Carol was knocked around by her first husband. At the beginning of the novel, they are driving out to Chicago from the fictitious Virginia town of Point Royal (based on the real Front Royal?) to visit Charles’ widowed mother, also a victim of her late husband’s violence. On the way, there is more violence when they witness the tail-end of an accident.

When they get there, they stay in a seedy motel on the outskirts of Chicago, to save money. Charles cannot sleep and they also row about the baby (Charles doesn’t think that they can afford it). Charles is approached by two men but nothing happens. The next night, when he goes to the store, these same two men enter, this time armed. The end result is the death of an off-duty police officer, the motel owner (both of whom were in the store) and one of the robbers, while the other robber is badly injured. However, Charles has been a bit of a hero and saved Mrs. Wu, a Chinese lady working in the store. From there his problems start.

Charles cannot deal with the violence that he has witnessed. He refuses to talk to a variety of reporters about it but also refuses to talk to Carol or his mother about it. He turns in on himself and, when they go home, his behaviour gets worse. Carol has pregnancy problems but Charles cannot deal with them. Indeed, he drops out of school without telling her. Much of the book is taken up with Bausch’s excellent portrayal of Charles struggling to deal with his demons. Eventually he goes back to Chicago where he confronts both the surviving attacker, now in prison, and his mother. His issues with his mother are what happened to him as a child, the attacks by his father and what she did or, rather, didn’t do to protect him. He learns that he was first a victim at age eight months and his mother did not intervene, both in order to protect him from further beatings but also because she couldn’t bear the thought of her husband leaving her. Eventually, Charles went and lived with his maternal grandmother, which he remembers quite well, particularly her descent into Alzheimer’s.

As this is a novel – and this is the very weak bit – Charles seems to easily exorcise his demons, come to terms with Carol’s pregnancy and probably live happily ever after. Novels may be like that. Life rarely is. But, in between, Bausch has given us a first-class story of violence and its effects on ordinary people.

Publishing history

First published 1992 by Houghton-Mifflin