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Girls: A Novel

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  594 ratings  ·  64 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book

In the unrelenting cold and bitter winter of upstate New York, Jack and his wife, Fanny, are trying to cope with the desperate sorrow they feel over the death of their young daughter. The loss forms a chasm in their relationship as Jack, a sardonic Vietnam vet, looks for a way to heal them both.

Then, in a nearby town, a fourteen-year-old girl d
...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 24th 1998 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 1997)
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3.52  · 
Rating details
 ·  594 ratings  ·  64 reviews


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Julie
Girls: A Novel by Frederick Busch is a 2011 Ballantine publication.

This is an older novel, which was recommended to me from a book group I decided to join.

The synopsis sounded different, but promising-

While the book is absorbing in many ways, the focus is mostly centered on Jack and Fanny’s relationship and grief and less on the missing girls for the most part. The last quarter of the book does begin to concentrate on that thread more, but the relationship issues are still overpowering.

As the
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Terry
Apr 24, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This was just an "emergency read"--I didn't have anything to read, was too sick to go to the library, and didn't have money (and was also too sick!) to go to the bookstore. So I just pulled this from my roommate's library. Unfortunately her tastes run to Jodi Picoult and Dean Koontz, sooooooo... there you go. This was a fairly basic story---Viet Nam vet (dates this book, doesn't it?) turned fancy-college security guard is asked to help the local police look for some missing girls, which brings u ...more
Steve Betz
Jul 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2007
I’ve always liked the way that Joyce Carol Oates has been able to capture the “quiet desperation” of muddling through in the average lives of New England and New York. I had never read anything of Frederick Busch before and this story of a nearly-broken former-cop-turned-security-guard and his near obsessive investigation into the disappearance of a local girl is impressively haunting.

Not really a whodunit – the investigation is almost secondary – but the book follows the protagonist's inexorabl
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Kim
Mar 04, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't get into it. At first it was the subject matter, because I hate dead baby things, but then I didn't care for the protagonist. The big reveals were so drawn out and late that I guessed them; that always puts me a little out.

I felt like I was walking through an architecture museum: beautiful examples of structure and counterbalance and fascia, but nothing wholly formed to transport me to another place.
William Prystauk
When I finished this book last night at 2:00am, I got choked up. This was such a riveting, rhythmic literary work that if in movie form would be considered a classic film. Needless to say, it’s tied with “Sharp Objects” for the best I’ve read – though they are both in different categories so to speak.

Busch’s pace and structure was amazing and it was as if I was reading off silk. The prose was simple and beautiful, loaded with imagery and absolutely stellar dialogue. The characters were well deve
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Christie
The best word I can think of to describe Frederick Busch’s novel Girls is muscular. The novel has certainly received much higher praise than that. Glamour Magazine called it “powerful,” and went on to describe it as an intriguing crime story although the novel’s real strength lay with the main character’s “growing insight about his marriage, his town, and himself [which] transforms this page-turner about lost children into a tender and eloquent examination of the even greater mystery that is the ...more
Kendra
Jan 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
This is the only Frederick Busch book that I've read, so I wasn't sure what to expect. His writing style reminds me a bit of Cormac McCarthy in that both of them can convey so MUCH with so FEW words. It's a gift to find a writer that with a single sentence gives you the feeling of being kicked in the gut with its power, and it happened with this book numerous times.

The subject matter, that of the disapperance of a young girl and the toll it takes on her family and our protagonist, Jack, is very
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Leah
Mar 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I was also scared. I had forgotten what the weight of the .32 made me remember--the kind of power a weapon concentrates at the end of your arm. You move it, and you're Mrs. Tanner's heroic Lord. You make decisions. Let this person's chest be opened. Let there be bone fragments in the air. Let his chest breathe, sucking for air through the maroon spittle on his sternum. The fear of his face begins at the end of your arm with the gun's dead heaviness, and you're scared, too. I'd even liked the fe ...more
Heather
Jan 22, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Overall, I just think I didn't really like the narrator of this book, and that's the real reason I didn't enjoy it. I loved that it was set at my alma mater, and I really wanted to love the whole book, since the author is a Colgate professor, but I just didn't enjoy reading it. I felt that the storyline would make great jumps in time without warning, and somehow we were always waiting for spring (hadn't months gone by?). He would say things like "I think I knew who was behind this" but not actua ...more
Kris
Oct 28, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was the most introspective and... sedate? thriller I have ever read. So much takes place within the head of the narrator, but I still didn't always understand his motivation. The plot moved slowly, despite chunks of time being totally skipped over. I was intrigued by the portrayal of a relationship under serious strain, but the first person narration made me wish for the other side of the story. So, it was an okay read for me, but left me scratching my head a bit,
Carolyn Brandt
This book was hard to follow for me. Because of the writing style, I found myself re-reading sentences and paragraphs just to get the tone right and really understand what he was talking about. I think the main character was supposed to be sarcastically witty, but it didn't get pulled off...and the wife, although going through a tragic pain..annoyed me.
Jen
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-fiction
Intense, disturbing and brilliant. 4 1/2 stars, really.

One item of note...Busch's characterization of the dog, the ever-present unnamed dog, was exceptional. If you live with dogs, you will see the truth and beauty of this dog as supporting character. I have been thinking over the past couple of days why the author would emphasize the dog, even though he is never called by name in the story. I think the main character needs someone who loves him unconditionally for him to continue onward in his
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Mike
May 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Professor Fred Busch taught at Colgate while I was a student, before his literary talent emerged in full. This book is "set" at Colgate, although the names of school and some of the towns have been changed. Literary noir, as bleak and cold as an upstate New York winter, about a campus security officer roped into helping a couple whose 14 year old daughter has gone missing, because he too lost a daughter. I appreciated the reference to Wampsville, as it brought back warm feelings about my days as ...more
Patrick Barry
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The loss of his infant daughter and the resulting unraveling marriage, are the catalyst for Jack to try to recover other girls who are lost: girls whose faces show up on bulletin boards, telephone poles and milk cartons. Jack becomes obsessed with a case: a missing 14 year old the daughter of a local minister and his terminally ill wife. It's an interesting story; part detective story; part the story of the inner workings of a beleaguered mind. There's a lot going on in this quick read. Set in U ...more
Samya Fraser
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely love this book! Its so dark and frank and pulls you straight into the main characters head and world. Despite the dark tone and nature of the story, I really missed Jack after I finished the book. Impeccably written, cleverly presented and a plot that remains enticing throughout.
Elly Ort
Grim and gripping

Written in excellent prose! The narrator is over involved, seeking his own life. Searching for his demons. Read at your own emotional risk!
Alice
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Way too wordy

I was interested at first but then had to skip over a LOT of text because it was much too wordy when it didn’t need to be.
Melanie
Apr 13, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
dnf. Disheveled writing and agonizingly slow plot. After 100 pages, I questioned why I'm spending time on a book that makes me cringe. Life is too short for slow books.
Ana Montes
Aug 29, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
couldn't finish it. stopped 100 pages in. story doesnt grab me.
Meg Lelvis
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent literary mystery, well paced with suspense and psychological turns. First rate character development.
Stewart
Feb 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To call a novel messy may be an unusual way to compliment it, but that word comes to mind after I read “Girls: A Novel” by Frederick Busch. What I liked about this 1996 novel is that many of its components are messy. The weather – upstate New York in the winter – is messy, with the seemingly nonstop cloudiness, snow, and cold permeating the atmosphere.
The four main characters are morally and emotionally complex and flawed, indeed messed up, taking actions that hurt others – or, more often, not
...more
Xerodog
I do admire the writing and the intricacy of the story. I appreciate the narrative point of view and feel that the character and situation are well handled. Unfortunately, for me, there is a problem with the toughness of the protagonist's actions. I get it that he is not the best educated person, that he is in a psychologically impossible situation because of the death of his child and that he suffered some from his time in Vietnam (and that he really does not have respect for those that take a ...more
Shannon
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Oh how I wish Girls was the first in a series. I enjoyed all the characters so much. The first pages were a bit sketchy, I really didn't know if I was going to like the book. The story smooths out, and then I was hooked.
Alison Hardtmann
Nov 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-library
I picked up Frederick Busch's book hoping for a reasonably well done crime novel and got so much more than that. It was wonderfully written; Busch has the astonishing knack of making his words both eloquent and spare. His characters became people I knew, complex and interesting and the setting, a private university in upstate New York during a harsh winter, was so clearly drawn as to make me pull on gloves. Busch writes a little like Castle Freeman, Jr., which suits perfectly the setting of the ...more
Marguerite
Jul 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Frederick Busch packs a couple of mysteries into this modest (279-page) novel. The main characters, Jack and Fanny, are damaged but likable. Fanny is an ER nurse and Jack a campus cop who, after the death of their daughter, has a special sensitivity to missing girls. A 14-year-old girl from a neighboring town is his crusade here. Busch peels back layers in his story and keeps things taut and the reader engaged till the end. He also dishes out a couple of subplots (the principled librarian was a ...more
Steve Petkus
Jun 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Girls is an engaging who-done-it novel peppered with excellent dialogue and frequent, poetically rendered insight into human loss and suffering. Though it was published in the late 1990s, I happened upon the book only recently; how did I miss it, especially as I have taught the short story ("Ralph the Duck") it is based on in my classes since the mid-1990s. I've always considered "Ralph the Duck" a terrific short story, and Busch's expansion of it really works well. I especially like the way, wh ...more
Greg
Jul 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
An almost unrelentingly grim novel — but beautiful as well, as Busch creates characters of stunning complexity and reality. The entire cast of Girls comes alive in a way that few novels' characters do.

Like Robert Stone's A Flag for Sunrise, Girls is concerned with the prevalence of cruelty and injustice in the world, but in Busch's novel the focus is not political or historical, but rather more intensely centered on an individual life. "I am not a bad man," Jack, our narrator, insists near the e
...more
Amygrace
I finished this book a week or so ago but it still continues to come into my mind. There are things I either missed or did not understand that I am still pondering over. It was good enough to finish. There were parts that I found where I could not put the book down but most of it I muddled my way through seeing it as far more about the main character and his relationship with his wife where they could not speak the truth to each other - a very upsetting and annoying thing that just as what will ...more
Pamela
Nov 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
There is a line in this book that says about the main character, Jack, that he's the kind of guy that makes you want to take care of him. Busch has created a character that seems so real that I did want to take care of him. The book follows Jack through a few months of a long, hard winter in upstate New York as he and his wife of many years try to cope with the death of their baby. Jack gets pulled into an investigation of a missing girl which opens up all kinds of feelings for him that he is un ...more
Ludovica
Apr 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The novel is intriguing and well-written. although this is not my favourite genre, I appreciated the way Busch depicts human emotions: it was very insightful, deep and real. The characters' feelings do get to the reader and maybe this is why I was left raw by this story: it was like it reached me too close and I was able to feel the characters.
since I enjoyed the author's style, I think I may want to read more from his bibliography.
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Frederick Busch (1941–2006) was the recipient of many honors, including an American Academy of Arts and Letters Fiction Award, a National Jewish Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award. The prolific author of sixteen novels and six collections of short stories, Busch is renowned for his writing’s emotional nuance and minimal, plainspoken style. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he lived most of his li ...more
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