Dust to Dust By Benjamin Busch

My Little Book Problem: Reviews by Paul LeDuc Pretzer

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I do read nonfiction from time to time, but I don’t really make a regular habit of it. I often find the narrative style or story telling lacking, usually more reporting than story crafting, which is why I prefer fiction. I probably wouldn’t have given Dust to Dust a chance, to be honest, because it might have been easy to lump it in with the plethora of Iraq War memoirs published in the wake of the conflict. The book came to me via a friend who lent it to me and told me that I had to read it. The last push was the promising words of Bonnie Jo Campbell, an amazing author herself (Q Road, American Salvage, Once Upon a River) and my former writing professor, on the back cover of the jacket pronouncing that she, “…loved every word of the wonderful book.” I couldn’t agree more with Campbell and I should hug my friend for knowing me well enough to recognize how much I would love this memoir.

Busch’s approach to the narrative structure was refreshing. The book explores his connections with the earth, nature, the way we try to exist within its cycle, and his connection with it through particular elements and his experiences. He takes these basic physical and earthly elements- symbols of time, nature, and the cycles of life, nine in all (Arms, Water, Metal, Soil, Bone, Wood, Stone, Blood, and Ash) and uses them as the vehicle to drive each chapter. Within each section, he bounces between stories of his youth, his college years, his years in service and in Iraq, and his time living in Michigan after the war, but the stories and eras are related by a particular element rather that the events in the narratives. The stories themselves are an attempt by Busch to show how these elements have had an important and lasting impact on his connection to both time and place. At times, the reader isn’t sure how he will connect the experiences between different ages and places. However, Busch always manages to connect the ideas  via the specific element, and he often manages to tie the stories and the fundamental elements into an understanding of his interconnectedness in his relationships with family and friends, and with the earth and world around him, so as to come full circle,  amassing a certain weight and depth.

My favorite part of the memoir, however, is Busch’s use of language, which is as good as anyone I’ve read in years. His use of figurative and sensory language is vivid and rich, and he often combines this with listing, parallel structure, and a sense of repetition that his mesmerizing and hypnotic. I often underline passages in my books or make annotations (a sin to some, a sin not to in the eyes of others), but they are usually brief, a sentence or two, or a comment here or there. However, in this case, I found myself underlining whole chunks of text, often a whole paragraph, and sometimes I would look at the two page spread before me, and I would have underlined the majority of the text. He had paragraphs so blossomed, so lush with description, with heart, with compassion, that I found it difficult to find a place to stop underling. Rarely have I ever felt that way. I realize I am gushing a bit, but every now and then you read something that just blows you away, stylistically speaking, and this book definitely moved me.

I would recommend this book to anyone with a love of language and the use of language, especially, but not limited to, any writers out there that want to improve their craft; this is inspiring and a breath of fresh air. Anyone who loves to explore the connections between people and the world around them would enjoy this book.