Girls : a novel

by Frederick Busch

Paper Book, 1997




New York : Harmony Books, c1997.


Fiction. Literature. HTML:A New York Times Notable Book In the unrelenting cold and bitter winter of upstate New York, Jack and his wife, Fanny, are trying to cope with the desperate sorrow they feel over the death of their young daughter. The loss forms a chasm in their relationship as Jack, a sardonic Vietnam vet, looks for a way to heal them both. Then, in a nearby town, a fourteen-year-old girl disappears somewhere between her home and church. Though she is just one of the hundreds of children who vanish every year in America, Jack turns all his attention to this little girl. For finding what has become of this child could be Jack's salvation�??if he can just get to her in time. .

User reviews

LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
I picked up Frederick Busch's book hoping for a reasonably well done crime novel and got so much more than that. It was wonderfully written; Busch has the astonishing knack of making his words both eloquent and spare. His characters became people I knew, complex and interesting and the setting, a
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private university in upstate New York during a harsh winter, was so clearly drawn as to make me pull on gloves. Busch writes a little like Castle Freeman, Jr., which suits perfectly the setting of the book, but also with an understated descriptiveness that reminded me a little of Hemingway.

And, for all that, this is an unpretentious book about how a girl gone missing from a small farming community impacts the life of a man with the sorrow of his own daughter's death. Jack works as a university security guard, protecting the pampered children of well-to-do families as they do their best to misbehave. His wife and he are not doing so well; although they both wish their relationship was better, improving it seems to be impossible. Jack isn't a talkative man and his closest relationship is with his dog. When an acquaintance asks him to look into the girl's disappearance, he is reluctant to get involved. The state police know what they are doing and his investigating days never amounted to more than getting drunk servicemen to admit to their acts of violence. He slowly becomes obsessed with the missing girl, as she becomes mixed in his mind with his own daughter.

As much a psychological study of people handling more than they're equipped for, the plot nonetheless is well put together, creating a book that is both an entertainment and worth thinking about afterward.
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LibraryThing member delphica
(#27 in the 2003 Book Challenge)

It's a suspense story, but the writing style is really very unusual. One of the things I liked about it is that the reader is never exactly sure how she feels about the various characters, they all seem to have good and bad sides. Our narrator is a security guard at
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an upstate New York college, and has recently lost a daughter -- the title refers to the various young girls that intersect his life, and his drive to protect these girls from harm. I got into an interesting conversation with a bartender while I was reading this book, about the fact that the title "Girls" seems like it should be salacious. I think the author plays with this idea, too.

Grade: B+/A-
Recommended: to people who like suspense, but are also interested in the psychology of the various characters in the story. This is almost more like an atmosphere piece than an actual mystery.
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LibraryThing member carmarie
This book was hard to follow for me. Because of the writing style, I found myself re-reading sentences and paragraphs just to get the tone right and really understand what he was talking about. I think the main character was supposed to be sarcastically witty, but it didn't get pulled off...and the
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wife, although going through a tragic pain..annoyed me.
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LibraryThing member bastet
Girls are missing from this college town and a lowly maintenance worker is brought into the fray. Brilliant writing.
LibraryThing member castironskillet
There is a line in this book that says about the main character, Jack, that he's the kind of guy that makes you want to take care of him. Busch has created a character that seems so real that I did want to take care of him. The book follows Jack through a few months of a long, hard winter in
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upstate New York as he and his wife of many years try to cope with the death of their baby. Jack gets pulled into an investigation of a missing girl which opens up all kinds of feelings for him that he is unable to express. The setting and characters of this book are powerful.
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LibraryThing member kylenapoli
What an unexpected delight.
LibraryThing member TimBazzett
I first read GIRLS (1997) more than twenty years ago when I was only just discovering the fiction of Frederick Busch. It's perhaps his best known book of the thirty that he wrote in a career that spanned nearly forty years. Busch was never afraid to plumb the darkest side of a man's most secret
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thoughts and nature, and he went deep in this one, about a fourteen year-old girl gone missing in a bleak upstate New York winter, and a campus cop, identified only as Jack, who is enlisted as an unwilling investigator. Jack is also the narrator here, and his own story unfolds in stages. A veteran of Vietnam where he was an MP, while he didn't see combat, he bears his own psychic scars from that time, and now his marriage is on shaky ground following the recent death of an infant daughter, an event neither he nor his wife, Fanny, can talk about. Grief and denial figure prominently throughout this tragic tale, but so too do infidelity and betrayal. Jack's affair with Rosalie Piri, a professor who is described as tiny and girlish, takes on disturbing nuances as he also tries to solve the disappearance of the teenager, the daughter of a minister. College life in the 90s is painfully accurate in its portrayal, as Jack targets a drug dealer, rescues a girl attempting suicide after an affair with her professor, and coordinates with a student committee to prevent rape.

And yet, despite all the dark threads mentioned here, I often found myself chuckling or even guffawing at small things slipped into Jack's stream of consciousness narration, sometimes subtle irony, and sometimes just flat out funny. Weaving dark and light together this way? Not easy. But Busch is a master at this kind of unexpected comic relief, as well as making you squirm at the nastier stuff or scaring the hell out of you.

I had read GIRLS before, but could not remember "whodunit," and Busch kept me guessing to the very end. This is simply one helluva good read, and if you've never read any Fred Busch, this book would be a good place to begin. My very highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
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