This expressive collection of short stories by renowned writer Richard Bausch confronts the meaning behind disparate lives. Bausch’s understated, masterful writing invites us to contemplate the ultimate mystery we are to each other and --- perhaps most of all --- to ourselves.
SOMETHING IS OUT THERE is composed of 11 short stories formed of characters who never meet each other and remain completely separate. A large number of them are couples --- some married and monogamous, others not so --- and some who are simply looking for something else. There are musicians struggling with a faltering marriage, a son attempting to support his dying mother through her last days, a chaste reverend and his adulterous wife, a spoiled son who witnesses a crime, a group of golfing buddies who conceal a secret from each other, a mother whose children have become endangered by her husband’s crime, a man who falls in love with his brother’s wife, a waitress who becomes obsessed by an older man who drops a note in a cafe, a group of couples at a restaurant who are becoming closer to each other and some growing further apart, an immigrant couple who is attempting to start a life in America, and last --- and most astounding of all --- a priest who becomes baffled by the curious confessions of a precocious and intelligent child.
In these articulate and subtly penetrating short stories, Bausch uses his considerable gifts to ask readers to question --- without ever really asking --- the significance behind all of these unrelated lives. His characters are people preoccupied by their struggles, with all of their passions, suffering and weaknesses laid pathetically bare for others to see. The truth, Bausch shows us, ultimately lies somewhere deep within, but reason and consequence have become totally obscured behind personal sentiment. Any impulse for readers to stand back and critique a character’s goodness, honesty or actions within the stories seems to somehow dissolve throughout the process of reading, evolving into simple questions that arise from observing in the distance.
Buried within Bausch’s stories somewhere are the underlying themes, but they are never put forth so brazenly that readers are left unchallenged to really consider. Reading his book, I found myself wondering again and again what exactly he meant to convey, recognizing that any number of readers are likely to come up with different ideas. One of his greater themes, as I comprehended, is best expressed by the words of Thoreau: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” That people are a mystery even to themselves unquestionably plays a major role in these stories. And also that the truth becomes somehow lost --- oftentimes completely --- in how we feel as flawed and emotional human beings.
Bausch’s stories will leave readers pondering human connections and the greater meanings in life but not necessarily as we are accustomed to thinking about them. The process of witnessing the desperation, passions, fragility and even the thoughtlessness of these characters may surprise you as it changes your thought processes more than you believed it could. In SOMETHING IS OUT THERE, Bausch has created an extraordinary book that will surprise readers and leave them philosophizing over big ideas for a long time after they’ve turned the last page.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on January 23, 2011