“The Man Who Knew Belle Starr” by Richard Bausch

Scribner Anthology big
“The Man Who Knew Belle Starr”
Richard Bausch

5 book marks

Here’s another excellent short story from The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction – Fifty North American Stories Since 1970.

McRea is out of the Air Force, on a dishonorable discharge, after serving time in Leavenworth for assaulting an officer. He’s alone now that his father is dead and he’s heading west in an old Dodge Charger, with what’s left of his father’s life insurance money.

Everything changes when he picks up a hitchhiker just inside Texas, “a young woman carrying a paper bag and a leather purse, wearing jeans and a shawl.”

Something’s not right and things go bad fast in this story that starts out one way but quickly becomes a suspense thriller. Bausch does a great job describing the volatile tension between McRea and the young woman, who insists he call her Belle Starr, after the notorious horse rustler and outlaw. “Just think about it, McRae,” she says. “You can say you rode with Belle Starr. You can tell your grandchildren.”

Through their dialogue, Bausch describes McRea’s nearly crippling fear as he struggles to think his way out of danger. And within these lines are two stories of unhappy childhoods and bad tempers, of a maturity that ironically comes too late. Bausch’s ending forces the reader to consider the outcome and wonder if, at that moment in time, his character is what the author says he is, “just something crippled and breathing in the dark.”

I particularly like how the story turns on the characters’ misinterpreted remarks and I think these comments are perfectly integrated into the dialogue. By showing extreme reactions to what the characters say, Bausch points to how unstable situations can be.

Richard Bausch - from richardbausch.com
Richard Bausch – from richardbausch.com

Richard Bausch is an American novelist and author of short fiction. “The Man Who Knew Belle Star” was published in 1987. In addition, he has written eleven novels and eight books of short fiction. He attended college at George Mason University and received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. His most recent novel, Peace, was published in 2008 and Before, During, After is due out in August 2015. Bausch has won numerous awards and distinctions for his work, including two National Magazine Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, The 2004 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story, and the 2013 REA award for Short Fiction. He is currently a professor at Chapman University in Orange, California.

Be sure to visit Richard Bausch’s website for information about all of his work as well as Bausch’s Amazon author page.

Thanks also to Wikipedia for information about Richard Bausch.

And check out Wikipedia for information about Belle Starr.

Belle Starr wanted poster

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