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“What Happens Next?” has won the 2014 PEN/New England Book Award for Non-fiction

“The PEN/New England Book Award  judges’ citation for “What Happens Next?”: Douglas Bauer’s memoir-in-essays is a riveting meditation on death and dying and an exhilarating and joyous illumination of what it means to have curiosity and spirit. Using closely observed details and avoiding judgment, Bauer lifts the great dome of sky that covers the American heartland and revisits interior spaces that evoke our shared human dread of anonymity, loneliness, monotony, and boredom. By reconstructing the very local lives of his brave Midwestern family, Bauer quietly hints at why many young people abandon the Midwest to pursue busier, more distracted lives on the nation’s ecologically fragile coasts. And, seen in this light, the question posed by the book’s deceptively simple title takes on added gravitas: reading these hauntingly beautiful pages, readers may well find themselves pondering the consequences of American restlessness.”


Review of “What Happens Next?” by Suzanne Koven in Fourth Genre, Volume 16, Issue 1: Suzanne Koven writes, “What could have been a depressing theme becomes, in Bauer’s skilled hands, a lyrical reverie . . . [His] combination of narrative humility and curiosity suffuses [these] lovely essays.”

Review of “What Happens Next?” by Susan Macallum-Smith in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Link >

A discussion of “What Happens Next?” on Deborah Kalb’s book blog  Link >

A posting of “What Happens Next?” at the Book Gallery of the Dr. T.J. Eckelburg Review  Link >

An interview with Elizabeth Mair of the Albany Times Union  Link >

An interview with Mike Kilen of The Des Moines Register  Link >


Review of “What Happens Next” in Kirkus Reviews:

Bauer, a Boston-based writer and teacher (Literature/Bennington Coll.; Prairie City, Iowa: Three Seasons at Home, 2012, etc.), was once an Iowa farm boy. In these deeply personal essays, he celebrates his family’s life in the Hawkeye State . . . Elegant and cleareyed, with his narrative artistry, Bauer renders the commonplace uncommon. He ably brings to life his forebear farmers and their diligent wives, the mean-tempered coal-miner grandfather in his bib overalls and his wife, and the corpulent grandmother. Bauer reimagines his parents’ youthful romance and paints, as well, their later, more fraught relationship. His mother always admired well-maintained farm tillage, and his father grew more taciturn as their bond became more caustic. After he died, her memory of married life became anodyne again. Early in his writing career, Bauer was befriended by the notable food critic and essayist M.F.K. Fisher, who, in important ways, seemed to become another maternal influence. And so the answer to the rhetorical question of this work’s title is clear. As the memoir reaffirms, we live and love, and the years pass, to be relived in memory of those who follow. It’s fortunate, then, to be memorialized in essays like these… A literate, thoughtful memoir/essay collection from the heartland.

— Kirkus Reviews


Review by David Abrams, author of Fobbit. Link >

Bauer, author of the novels Dexterity,  The Very Air and The Book of Famous Iowans, begins What Happens Next? by describing how, on the very day he has the first of three medical tests and procedures (“a quick, convenient cluster” of appointments to take care of his cataracts, his heart and his arthritic knee), he got a call from his brother telling him their mother “didn’t make it” through her own surgery.  If that sounds depressing, then I encourage you to keep reading because Bauer writes, as Andre Dubus III says, “with exacting and exquisite prose.”  Dubus also blurbs the book with “These are some of the finest, if not the finest, personal essays I have ever read.” So there’s that  . . . It’s an unforgettable tribute to lives gone by.


An interview with Michael Thurston in the Winter 2013 issue of Rain Taxi Review, briefly excerpted here. The interview in full appears in the magazine here: Link >  

Michael Thurston: What Happens Next? opens and closes with vision. Specifically with corrections to vision. More specifically, with surgical corrections to vision clouded by cataracts, which serves as a metonym for age and aging. What’s the relationship between writing and vision for you?

Douglas Bauer: The process itself, the activity of writing, when it’s working as it should, or as it sometimes can,takes me to a depth of openmindedness and impression that allows thoughts and connections and images I didn’t know existed to present themselves. The grandfather I talk about a lot in my book was a coal miner, so it’s fitting to say that the way I see through writing is as if I’m descending into a mine shaft, to a depth and a darkness I couldn’t reach any other way. Once down there, I make my way along the shaft, following the weak lantern light, both knowing and yet not quite knowing where I’m going, and being surprised by what the light reveals here and there. I could go on, I’m really getting warmed up to this metaphor, but I’m sure you have the notion fully.