Harry and Catherine (1990)

by Frederick Busch

Harry and Catherine's romance isn't the kind you often see portrayed on screen. They are in their 40s and not glamorous. Harry battles with his weight. Catherine, who lives in the country, wears flannel shirts, grows her own vegetables, and chops her own wood. She isn't sure whether she wants to be tied down; instead of a happily ever after ending, we get an ambiguous one.

They have a history with one another, and Harry never married because he's loved Catherine since they were first together 12 years before. A former journalist now working as a senator's aide, Harry seizes upon a political issue — the construction of a parking lot might pave over the graves of runaway slaves — as an excuse to spend time near Catherine in upstate New York. Catherine, an art dealer, is a single mother with two teenage sons and a lover, Carter, the contractor for the parking lot.

Harry's arrival is a double whammy for Carter, displacing him from Catherine's bed and threatening his livelihood. The Harry-Carter rivalry is only a part of the story. Catherine's relationships with her sons and Harry's careful approaches to the boys are insightfully described as well. The characters are also revealed alone, and author Frederick Busch manages sympathy even for Carter, whose callousness about "black corpses rottin" could have made him odious.

Busch's nuanced prose relies on introspection, dialogue, and wit rather than action. A kitchen, the center of domestic life, is the primary setting, the place where an independent woman and a man trying mightily to make it work out this time converse as they cook together and linger over meals.

Not as well know as many modern authors but admired by critics, Busch produced more than two dozen books and many short stories, most of them about family life. He died in 2006 at only 64.


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