Laughter and Early Sorrow and Other Stories by Brett Busang

Bill Lockwood

Laughter and Early Sorrow and Other Stories by Brett Busang

Laughter and Early Sorrow and Other Stories (Open Books, 2017) is a collection of nine intriguing short stories by Brett Busang. The book jacket describes the author as a “prolific essayist, a playwright, a painter, an ambivalent anglophile, and a failed ballplayer.” The collection is based on recollections and insights from Busang’s childhood and coming of age in Memphis, Tennessee during the sixties and seventies. His stories also have a touch of the fifties as well, as the first-person protagonist and narrator in “Year of the Falling Santa” insightfully says that “The sixties were just like the fifties until people started squawking about civil rights more audibly than they’d done before, or maybe it was just The Beatles.”

For someone like me, who had a similar growing up and coming of age, Busang’s stories resonate times and places that I can certainly relate to. The stories cover the rites of a boy’s childhood and young adolescence such as baseball, accordion lessons, backyard camping, summer camp, road trips before our interstate highway system was completed, stays at grandma’s house, and saying “damn” for the first time. The stories are told in the first person with the same unidentified male narrator and protagonist. It is interesting that adult female characters are significant characters in the collection and girls, although mentioned, are never really an important part of the action. Busang’s lead characters seem just short of the part of coming age where the sexes become really aware of each other.

It’s obvious Busang has a love of baseball, as do I. “The Great Walkout” is my favorite in this collection. The author shows very good knowledge of the game from the players point of view. A comment made near the end illustrates an insightfulness that Busang brings to all of his stories in various ways. After the opposing pitcher does a very un-baseball thing, the narrator expresses the wisdom that “Baseball is one of the few games I know that is actually designed for losers, and if you couldn’t live that way, you couldn’t play.”

The images he creates by his description of scenes is excellent. In “Moment Musicale” the narrator describes the “stability” of the suburbs where he lives to the city where he hopes to find “glamour, dissolution, danger” in “an alternative universe of unpainted clapboards and half-assed repair.”  Busang also shows his diversity in “Year of the Falling Santa” where the narrator attributes a couple poems to his grandfather, poems that Busang wrote as well.

The stories, however, are not always presented to us in simple, easy-to-read language. Busang uses complicated comparisons and “high language” in a very erudite—that’s a word I think Busang would use—style. His word choices challenge the reader to think as you read. But then, that’s not such a bad thing. His stories really capture a certain generation’s adolescent boys’ experiences, desires, and hopes through their coming of age. For the younger among us, this collection provides insight to mid-twentieth-century America. For those of us of Busang’s time and place, it is a real trip down memory lane.


Brett Busang was born in St. Louis but claims his publisher thinks he was born in Memphis. According to Busang, like many people whose birthplaces have been switched, he states that he’s geographically challenged which is why, when he decides to go somewhere he stays—as he has done in Washington D.C.—long past the time when its welcome mat is cleanly stitched and the only word it has ever needed etched, between all the needlework, in letters any guest might read from the curb. The condition of having been transplanted by others has, however, prompted a salutary reflex: “If they’re going to make up things about me, I’ll do the same for, and with, them. Having said this… are there any questions?” Busang is the author of I Shot Bruce (Open Books 2016), a novel about the fifth Beatle. His writing has appeared in print and in numerous collections, magazines, and journals such as the Loch Raven Review, Open Letters Monthly, The Bacon Review,  Cobalt Review, Overtime, Saranac Review, and Toasted Cheese.


Bill Lockwood is a retired social services worker for Maryland and Vermont. He was an avid community theater participant in the early 1990s where he wrote reviews and feature articles for the Baltimore Theater Newsletter and the Bellows Falls Town Crier of Vermont. He was awarded the Greater Falls Regional Chamber of Commerce Person of the Year in recognition of his work as Chairman of the Bellow Falls Opera House Restoration Committee. Lockwood has four published short stories and published his second novel, Megan of the Mists, in 2017 and recently published his third novel, Ms. Anna. He lives in New Hampshire.

Two Poems

Brett Busang

Driving on the Highway
Photo Credit: Walt Stoneburner

Having Gone Places, We Came Back to the Car

We were not brothers until, late one night,
Dribbling knee and ankle from a parked car,
We talked about our father whose philanderings
We didn’t know whether to admire with caution,
Or to dismiss with a fanatic summons he would not hear
And could never answer.

He left when we were boys, just boys
Whose second sense for drama was well-tuned enough
To know that, this time, when the door was shut,
Not to muffle its sound, but to complete it,
He was gone for good: a now-wayward fellow—
With our mother in the bedroom wondering,

Not where all the time had gone, but why she’d given
So much of it to him. She called us in, one at a time,
To orient us: she, a teacher, and we in the unfamiliar territory
Of a future life. “We’ll get through this,” she said,
Looking less a survivor than she knew.
And now: we were talking about the gaps and ridges,

The geographical seizures that catapult waifs and strays—
From Memphis to Kansas City in our case. Long drives,
Necessary pit-stops, heat and light coming into the car,
Not to warm or illuminate, but to keep us angry at one another.
We talked about all that, got it straight,
Left it in our palms like so much loose change,

And drove, as if we were going to a better place
With no set boundaries and milder claims on our psyches:
A place we’d been looking for all that time
With our faces pulled away from the sun and blinking
Like nomads who are obliged to break camp early enough
To suck the heat out of the waves and hear our voices

Sounding, as they do for the first time, like those of strangers.


Hit in the Face

I don’t remember hitting him for the first time,
Whether it hurt me more or him, what started it—
Or whether it was the flight of a willful moment.
I don’t remember the dawning sense

Of injury as it raddles a ready face,
Or the puckered look that precedes a good cry.
I don’t remember him flailing out at me,
Or my quick-step away from his fury.

Nor do I remember the calm that slips into a battle,
Rendering it down into the cheap choreography
The mind captures best and plays much too often.
What I remember is not the hot feeling in my hand

Nor the sense of getting away with something,
But of having murdered, in miniature,
Something that was alive, but would,
From then on, be small and guarded.


(Brett likes) people who listen, places from which soccer is notably absent, books without chase scenes (unless people are running), no particular color, any public space that is chewing-gum free, a good day followed by a lousy one, most organisms that are not named Josh or Hayden, peace of mind that doesn’t come at the expense of thinking, food he can eat with his fingers, drivers who signal, no drivers at all. Email: bbusang[at]