North: A Novel

by Frederick Busch

Hardcover, 2005




W. W. Norton & Company (2005), Edition: First Edition, 320 pages


Combining the pace of a detective story with the bold prose of a master storyteller, North is both an adventure and a pilgrimage. Alone and haunted by memories of his dead wife and child, Jack--who prowled the backwaters of Girls--returns to upstate New York from the Carolina coast, where he has been working as a security guard. A New York lawyer hires him to find her missing nephew, last seen in the area of Jack's northern hometown. His search gradually uncovers a dark underside of rural life and a cast of dangerous characters. Jack is besieged by memories as he uncovers a brutal crime and finds himself in a turbulent relationship with a treacherous woman. In trying to save another's life, Jack must relive his own; memory, obsession, and reality fuse; and Jack discovers the truth of Faulkner's observation that "the past is not really past; it's not even over."… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member TimBazzett
NORTH is a modern tragedy. Anyone who reads it would not question this statement. But the real tragedy here is how few people have read this book, how few people knew the magic of Fred Busch's fiction. Author of more than two dozen books, Busch was often referred to as a "writer's writer," which is
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a kind way of saying a guy who never had a bestseller. But he should have, and NORTH, along with its excellent prequel, GIRLS, should have topped the lists. Yes, the tragic hero of GIRLS, the long-suffering one-time cop, sometime rent-a-cop, returns in NORTH. There are no giants and no beanstalks in these two Busch books, but Jack is back. And so (briefly) is "the dog," his faithful companion from GIRLS. I find it odd that a writer like Busch, who so obviously loved dogs, created a hero (anti-hero?) who had a dog with no name. I always wonder what the significance of this was. As was the case in GIRLS, Jack is again trying to "rescue" someone. And once again, so very sadly, he fails. But he does so in the most human way. For Jack is a kind of Everyman in his trying to make things better. He supposedly doesn't have the words for the tragedies that have befallen him - in his marriage and in his friendships and work. But NORTH (and GIRLS) are perhaps the most eloquent novels of sorrow, loss and near-redemption that I have ever read. Many times, hearing Jack's inner monologue in my own mind as I read, I was nearly reduced to tears. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first, of course, is Busch's consumate skill in the creation of this guy; you'll never find a more human, sympathetic character in modern fiction. The other reason I was so saddened was the knowledge that Fred Busch is no longer with us. He died in February 2006. There will be no more stories of Jack. There will be no more beautiful Busch books to look forward to. Too sad. If I had to compare Jack to other modern "investigators," the Matt Scudder character of author Lawrence Block comes to mind. Those books were a guilty pleasure for me for a few years back in the 90s. But Jack is special in his suffering, in his fortitude, in keeping his dark secrets. There is violence and cruelty here, there is love and longing, there is even torrid and brutal sex, but most of all there is Jack himself, a character to be remembered for a long long time. The ending of NORTH left an opening for another book, a sequel, but no dice. En route to Maine and a new life, Jack will remain forever on that road. I will miss him, and I will miss the art of Fred Busch even more.
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