Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Legacies, both Family and Elmental, Grace Benjamin Busch's New Memoir, Dust to Dust. He's Appearing at Boswell on Wednesday, March 28, 7 pm

Much has been made of the father-son relationship over the years, or should I say over the centuries. I look back at my father and realize that while I was very different from him in some ways (love of folk dancing, for example), I am like him in many others.

Benjamin Busch was very different from his own father, Frederick, acclaimed author of The Night Inspector, North, and many other literary works. He was a cerebral guy, cautious of danger, wary of war. Both of Busch’s parents did their fair amount of war protesting. And though he settled his family in rural New York, he was not the kind of guy was who particularly connected to the land, though Benjamin’s mom did enjoy gardening.

You can only imagine how the elder Busches (Frederick is shown at left)  felt went their son enlisted in the Marines, albeit jumping from a stint in Vassar. If a Busch is going to join the armed forces, coming from a former all-women’s school seems the way to do it. And yes, Ben was the first male Vassar recruit ever. But this is not really a story of father-son conflict.

After two tours of Iraq, the younger Busch followed his wife to a teaching position in Michigan, where they settled in another rural area. Previous to that he honed his acting skills, appearing in several episodes of the acclaimed David Simon helmed cable show, “Homicide,” where he played both corpse and killer. And later he played a soldier in “Generation Kill.” Yes, he was a soldier and also played a soldier.

He made a film, “Sympathetic Details,” that has played in film festivals all over the country. And yes, he wrote too. It’s Busch’s connections to the land that connect his accomplished first memoir, Dust to Dust. Each chapter takes an elemental—water, metal, wood, blood and more—and connects the stories of his youth, wartime, and adult lives. It might be the blood of a high school football sprain that links to carnage in Iraq, or the metal pennies that Ben crushes on railroad tracks leading to an almost-fatal helicopter crash during his training.

Whether it’s the rings on a tree or the cracking of bones, the younger Busch notes that all these elements signal our brief walk through life. And Busch connects his life, and that of his family, and perhaps all of us, to these primal materials that connect both the world and our bodies. After all, the last section of this memoir is “Ashes."

I guess in a lot of ways, I am more like the elder Busch in my perspective, though perhaps even moreso, as I would probably not locate my primary home in a rural area. My perspective would be more akin to Ava Gabor in “Green Acres”, only with an emptier wallet and a different accent. Here I am reading about someone so connected to materials in a way that I am rather removed.

I was thinking about the audience for the book as I spoke to Michael at Ecco, and told him it reminded me a bit Michael Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work. I guess that was not far off, as Michael noted that this same comparison was used by the editor at a sales meeting.

Benjamin Busch's memoir, Dust to Dust,goes on sale today, March 20. We'll be hosting Mr. Busch at Boswell on Wednesday, March 28, 7 pm. Opening for him will be writer Christi Clancy. Hope to see you there.

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