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  1. Book ImageHarry and Catherine: A Love Story

    Frederick Busch

    "For years Frederick Busch has been at work on one of the most impressive bodies of American fiction."—Reynolds Price

Discussion Questions

  1. Did you find your sympathies shifting over the course of the book between Harry, Catherine, and Carter? If so, when?
  2. Near the end of the book, after Carter has buried the bones on Catherine’s land, Harry says, “That’s what you get for digging things up.” Throughout the book, there are scenes of excavation (the graveyard, the snake in the garden, even Harry’s scorched-earth apartment cleaning). How does this imagery tie in with the ways in which characters deal with their own “buried” pasts, with memories and feelings they may or may not want to dig up? What connections, for example, might one find between the graveyard and Harry and Catherine’s relationship?
  3. What are we to make of the other marriages and relationships presented in the book? Are there any that seem particularly ideal?
  4. How does Frederick Busch use the setting (i.e., landscape, season, the details of Catherine’s house and land) to lend resonance to the story?
  5. Work and jobs figure prominently in the novel. Harry uses his job to both get to Catherine and get at Carter. Contrasts are set up between the sort of work someone like the senator does and the sort of work someone like Truscott John does, or, perhaps more pertinently, between the work of Harry and that of Carter. In addition, there is Catherine, whom we never really see working at her job at the gallery, but whose domestic work—gardening, cooking, and firewood chopping—constitutes much of the action of the novel. There’s even Drown, who sees it as his job to howl at the moon and follow everyone on walks. Discuss the centrality of work and jobs (and the distinction between the two) in the novel, especially in light of Busch’s own work, that of a novelist, and the fact that he has written a nonfiction work about the writing life entitled The Dangerous Profession.
  6. Similarly, issues of property and ownership run throughout the story: ownership of the graveyard, Catherine’s bristling at the implication that either Carter or Harry “owns” her, her fear of losing her sons. How do these different ideas of ownership drive the story and motivate the characters? John Locke argued that one earns ownership through labor. What would Catherine say to that in regards to her garden? in regards to Harry’s determined attempt to win her back?
  7. Harry, like Busch, is a writer. It’s a surprise, then, to hear him say, “One thing I’ve learned about words is how little to trust them. Do what you need to do, and shut up.” What are we to make of this distrust? Perhaps think of the way in which, though the novel is full of people who speak their minds with wit and wisdom, the last scene in the novel is punctuated with gaping lacunae and swerving circumlocutions. Indeed, the talk—and, therefore, the book—ends with a silent and somewhat ambiguous response to a question.
  8. Another way to look at Harry’s feelings on language is in relation to the attention lavished on physical detail. Again, the book’s closing scene is a good example, but there are many other scenes—especially those in which Harry and Catherine are cooking or gardening together—where the deftness of the dialogue is matched by the richness of the sensual detail. Are there ways in which these scenes validate, even enact, Harry’s distrust of language?
  9. Catherine’s son Randy brackets the novel, appearing at the beginning and, via phone, at the end. He is away at college for the duration of Harry’s long second visit. When he returns for Thanksgiving, Harry will most likely be gone. Is there any significance to the fact that one’s presence means the other’s absence?
  10. What will Harry do now? Catherine? Will she end up with Carter again?
  11. Harry and Catherine is subtitled “A Love Story.” Near the end of the novel Catherine tells Harry that she has not heard him say the word “love” once during his stay. That is not true; he has said it a few times. She, however, has not. What do you make of this?
  12. The word that Harry and Catherine both use a little more often than “love” is “need.” How does Harry feel about the relationship between love and need? How does Catherine?
  13. Up until Bobby’s accident with the ax, Catherine seems to be leaning toward asking Harry to stay. Afterward, however, she has decided to send him away. What has spurred the change of heart? How do differing definitions and attitudes about love and need play themselves out in this final rejection?

About Frederick Busch

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 life in upstate New York, where he worked for forty years as a professor at Colgate University.

Books by Frederick Busch

  1. Book CoverHarry and Catherine: A Love Story

    "For years Frederick Busch has been at work on one of the most impressive bodies of American fiction."—Reynolds PriceMore

  2. Book CoverLetters to a Fiction Writer

    A collection of inspiring letters from some of our most renowned and respected fiction writers on the craft of writing and the writing life.More

  3. Book CoverNorth: A Novel

    A taut, dark, psychological page-turner from the best-selling author of Girls.More