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Take This Man by Frederick Busch
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Take This Man

by Frederick Busch

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Frederick Busch's TAKE THIS MAN was his eighth book and in it he returns again to the rugged and inhospitable Maine coast, near the Canadian border (a setting seen in his earlier novel, MANUAL LABOR). But the story begins in the flat windswept farmlands of Illinois near the end of World War II, where protagonist Tony Prioleau, a civilian engineer conscientious objector, heads a bedraggled military team of misfits, trying to utilize the new technology of television to help the war effort, a project that is doomed from the start. Prioleau, a classic "Sad Sack," is portrayed as an innefectual failure at nearly everything he has done.

Busch paints an effective portrait of a podunk small-town in Patoka Plains, with its mad immigrant druggist and his statuesque Brunnhilde-like daughter pursued by the local soldiers who are part of Prioleau's mismatched detachment. Enter Ellen LaRue Spencer, a runaway Philadelphia schoolteacher in pursuit of her soon-to-ship-out soldier fiance in San Diego. When she gets lost and her car breaks down in the army camp, she finds her way to Tony's quarters and into his bed. And therin begins the twisted tale of Tony, Ellen and the result of this chance union.

Both Tony and Ellen come from odd, unhappy childhoods. But Prioleau in particular is a clownish classic character, a "schlemiel" much like S. Levin, the anti-hero of Bernard Malamud's largely unsung novel of academia A NEW LIFE (a personal favorite of mine). The story of Tony and Ellen (and, later, son Gus) is followed all the way into the 80s, a telling and poignant story of a troubled family.

I was initially tempted to call TAKE THIS MAN more of an 'entertainment' than a serious novel, but as the characters aged the story became more serious. (The 1944 section was highly reminiscent of another nearly-forgotted mini-classic, Mark Harris's SOMETHING ABOUT A SOLDIER.)

The story took on added weight in the latter sections, set on the coast of Maine, an area I suspect author Busch loved from the many summers he spent in and near Cutler, undoubtedly a basis for Potter's Harbor where the small family ended up. TAKE THIS MAN offers tragedy, comedy, insanity, infidelity and comical klutziness, but more than anything else this is a love story and an intense examination of what family means. It's a theme that occurs over and over in the novels and stories of Frederick Busch. And, as the song said, "nobody does it better." This is a terrific story and a wildly entertaining read. ( )
  TimBazzett | May 4, 2012 |
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The long term story of a broken love affair between Anthony and Ellen beginning in 1944, and resuming in 1956, 1963 and 1980.

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