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A haunting story told with insight and powerful language, The Night Inspector chronicles an unforgettable character who navigates the desperate days and sleepless nights of a gilded yet polluted nineteenth-century New York.
William Bartholomew, a maimed veteran of the Civil War, returns from the battlefields to New York City a hardened man, bent on reversing his fortunes. Much of the lower half of his face was torn apart when he was felled by enemy fire, and he is forced to wear a mask in his postwar life as a New York financial speculator. Despite the solitude of his past life, Bartholomew, once a deadly sniper, now lives among all manner of slum dwellers, thieves, and murderers. As he prowls the city, he becomes involved with Jessie, a Creole prostitute who engages him in a venture that has its origins in the complexities and despair of the Civil War. And he befriends a deputy inspector of customs named Herman Melville—who, largely forgotten as a writer, is condemned to live…[more]
Like Hansel and Gretel, the characters in The Children in the Woods are concerned with survival; in the subtle playing out of this dark fairy tale, Busch makes palpable the themes of love, loss, alienation, and disillusionment. In “Critics,” it is the hierarchy of familial relationships that isolates an only child; in “The Settlement of Mars,” a young boy’s first recognition of the adult world is a frightening and disorienting experience; in “My Father, Cont.,” a child fantasizes he will be abandoned by his bickering parents; and in “Folk Tales,” a man’s reappraisal of his life is catalyzed by the discovery of old correspondence in his mother’s safe-deposit box after she dies. In all of these stories Busch is a master at exposing the vulnerability that resonates in each of the characters.
The distillation of twenty years of story collections by Frederick Busch, The Children in the Woods is further testimony to the integrity and distinction of his work. Containing eight previously uncollected stories, The Children in the Woods is an opportunity for both old fans and those newly acquainted with his work to celebrate this remarkable writer.