‘Fatality’ by Richard Bausch

Fatality by Richard Bausch, 1995

The magic trick:

Intensely telling the story of a man who intensely wants to take control over his life

We begin a week of Richard Bausch stories. He’s probably not the most famous writer of our times, is he? Then again, we should all be so anonymous. His work has regularly shown up in popular anthologies for more than three decades; his stories have been turned into films; and he joined the elite of the elites in 2012 when he won the Rea Award for the Short Story. OK, so we’re not exactly digging too deep under ground here.

In some ways, Bausch is an ironic feature on this web site because his writing is notable for its absence of deployed magic tricks. His stories are straight shooters. We get characters with deep but direct problems. The stories focus on those problems – often because they are so fundamental to the character’s life, there really would be no other story to tell about that character than the one that includes the solving of this problem. The narrators are often desperate. The plots often include violence. The dialogue is remarkably effective at moving the story forward and illustrating characterization at the same time.

And with all of that said, “Fatality” is probably just about the most representative Bausch story you could pick, it ably showcasing all of the aforementioned traits.

Crucially, the story breaks down a man’s quest for control over his life. I should’ve clarified that in the list above. Bausch’s stories often feature characters desperate for control over the lives. In “Fatality,” that desperation centers on a man whose daughter has fallen into a physically abusive marriage. The pressure increases throughout the story as the stakes ratchet up and the man is pushed further and further outside of his comfort zone.

Watching the process play out, for the reader, isn’t unlike a car crash in slow motion.

And that’s quite a trick on Bausch’s part.

The selection:

In August, Mrs. Mertock said she’d seen Fay at the Rite Aid again, and that there were large bruises on her arms. Mrs. Mertock had tried to engage her in conversation, but Fay only seemed anxious to be gone. “I took hold of her hand and she just slipped out of my grip, just went away from me as if I’d tried to take hold of smoke. I couldn’t get her to stand still, and then she was off. She seemed – well, like a scared deer.”

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