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Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
History, Science & Current Affairs
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
In this heartbreakingly beautiful book of disillusioned intimacy and persistent yearning, beloved and celebrated author Andre Dubus III explores the bottomless needs and stubborn weaknesses of people seeking gratification in food and sex, work and love.
In these linked novellas in which characters walk out the back door of one story and into the next, love is "dirty" - tangled up with need, power, boredom, ego, fear, and fantasy. On the Massachusetts coast north of Boston, a controlling manager, Mark, discovers his wife's infidelity after twenty-five years of marriage. An overweight young woman, Marla, gains a romantic partner but loses her innocence. A philandering bartender/aspiring poet, Robert, betrays his pregnant wife. And in the stunning title novella, a teenage girl named Devon, fleeing a dirty image of her posted online, seeks respect in the eyes of her widowed great-uncle Francis and of an Iraq vet she's met surfing the Web.
Slivered by happiness and discontent, aging and death, but also persistent hope and forgiveness, these beautifully wrought narratives express extraordinary tenderness toward human beings, our vulnerable hearts and bodies, our fulfilling and unfulfilling lives alone and with others.
Excerpted from Dirty Love by Andre Dubus. Copyright © 2013 by Andre Dubus. Excerpted by permission of W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
I don't believe in the notion of good people and bad people...that good people exist here and bad people exist here...I think we're all the above, and I don't think any reprehensible behavior is beneath me. I don't think I'm above anything - I'm a human being.*
In Dirty Love, Andre Dubus III presents people in relationship, without judgment but with great empathy and compassion. Each of the four interconnected stories lets us enter a life that resonates as our own: a person struggling with his own dreams and darkness, his own hopes and despair, his own loves and the capacity to sabotage that love. Just as in the scenes and acts of our own lives, we should not expect neat and complete resolutions, so Dubus's world is a mix of great need and desire, great satisfaction, and great disappointment.
As death always stalks the living, so that shadow is an ever-constant part of our most dazzling encounters with each other, of our most committed vows, and of our surest knowledge of each other. One of the bittersweet realities of our lives is that, no matter how long or how intimately we've lived with another and have been part of each other's lives, there remains the most secret of chambers within each of us; a place no one else can enter but ourselves. On that level, we are born alone, we live alone, and finally we die alone. No one else can accompany us on the most critical steps into the depths.
Such a view can seem despairing and hopeless, but Andre Dubus III is far from either. His world is filled with hope - hope almost beyond hope, which is really the only hope there is. Dubus said: "I'm actually troubled by monotheism. I have a hard time with it, but I believe in the divine. And I have a hard time believing that when we're dead, that's it - most days, I think there is something more mysterious that goes on."* Such a sense of mystery and depth pervades Dirty Love as it has Dubus's other works, especially House of Sand and Fog. Dubus creates real human beings like us, who often do really stupid things that undermine their greatest hopes and deepest loves, but who keep moving forward with that hope beyond hope, willing to risk again, to reach out again, to love again, to accept life on its own terms, trusting, on the most primal level, that their lives have meaning and truth deeply embedded within them.
In the opening story, "Listen Carefully, As Our Options Have Changed," we meet Mark Welch, a man accustomed to order and structure both at work and at home. Finding that order crumbling around him as he investigates and stalks his wife of 25 years and her new lover, he knows he has lost control in this relationship and that there is nothing he can do to change it.
Mark had felt small himself, a grasping failure of a man...Was it time to let her go? But to allow the question into his head and heart was to allow a black tumor to take residence there where it would grow. But the only thing growing was this distance between himself and the world he supposedly lived in. He became a man things happened to, and he found himself groping for the tools of his work ... the monitoring and ordering of the results of [his] plans.
Is there hope? Is there anything left upon which to build a life together? As T.S. Eliot wrote in "East Coker" one of the Four Quartets: "For us is only the trying."
Marla, the title character of the next story, an overweight young woman with little hope for any romantic relationship, finally discovers someone who she feels fulfills her hopes. With time, however, comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes, not intimacy, but loneliness as she realizes that this person is not who she thought she'd met. Nevertheless, happiness is not something that comes to us from another, but is our own gift to ourselves. Can she take her life in her own hands and create beauty?
The other two stories follow suit, exploring the lives of people struggling to feel love, keep love, heal from and heal with love. Andre Dubus has opened us to much of the human heart in these four stories. He enters that which tortures us: overwhelming unfulfilled desire, cruel jealousy and suspicion, seemingly irresistible mindless passion, deep regret for thoughtless action. He also bring us into the joys that life holds out: love and commitment, healing by each other's presence, deep faith in another human person, and, ultimately, hope that, though we cannot erase the past, we can make that past a foundation for the wholeness we can create in our crippled lives. In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl told us that, ultimately, we should not ask what the meaning of our lives is, but rather we must recognize that it is we who are asked - we are each questioned by life and are responsible to answer with the lives we create. The characters in Dirty Love are in the midst of creating those answers, and their lives.
*These quotes are from Andre Dubus III's Big Think interview:
Reviewed by Bob Sauerbrey
Talent seems to flow through families. Bach's sons became important composers in their own right, and one, Johann Christian, was considered by Mozart to be one of his musical fathers. Twice Nobel laureate Marie Curie was the mother of Irene Joliot-Curie, who herself won the Nobel in chemistry in 1935. Philosopher and novelist Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the then revolutionary A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was mother to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley who explored the nature of humanity in her still popular Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. Some children have carried on what their parents had established: Jeff Shaara has skillfully continued what his father Michael began in the Civil War historical novel, Killer Angels, and son Brian Herbert continues Frank Herbert's science fiction epic of Dune. Dick Francis' son Felix inherited his father's tradition of mysteries involving English horse racing and continues to write what he calls "Dick Francis" novels. In all of these, we see the parent's work flowing through the child's and often progressing into new dimensions and possibilities.
In other cases, however, children of famous parents have gone their own way while displaying the craft inherited from their parents.
The accompanying review of Dirty Love reminds us that Andre Dubus III's father was also an award winning writer, especially of short stories and essays, but Andre II's writing is pervaded both by his deep commitment to his Catholic heritage and by his coming to terms with the car accident in 1986 which confined him to a wheelchair for the last 13 years of his life. Andre III sees himself as a wandering agnostic who still has 'intimations of immortality' but is not allied to any particular religious path:
I believe in the divine. I believe in mysteries...I believe Jesus was a beautiful man... But I don't believe in some big boss up there, and I don't think I'm going to hell - or heaven either. My religion's the writing process.
Dirty Love, like House of Sand and Fog, plays out in a world that often seems absurd, without final purpose, and certainly not in the hands of a compassionate god.
Alexandre Dumas pere wrote adventure stories like The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, stories meant to entertain while still examining the corruption of power and the power of integrity. His son, Alexandre Dumas fils, wrote more intimate stories, especially about morality and about the lives of tragic women - many of his plays such as Le Fils Naturel (The Illegitimate Son, 1858) are grounded in the struggle with his own illegitimacy - even though Alexandre pere later adopted him. His early novel and play, Camile (The Lady of the Camellias, 1848) became the basis for one of Giuseppe Verdi's most popular operas, La Traviata (1853). So both father and son remain in the canon of great literature but for quite dissimilar bodies of work.
Mary Higgins Clark has been writing thrillers and suspense novels since 1968. Her daughter Carol Higgins Clark began writing her own novels in 1992 and has definitely displayed a different voice from her mother. Although they are able to collaborate seamlessly - in 2000, they began co-authoring a series of Christmas mysteries which are collages of each woman's particular point of view and abilities. Carol's Regan Reilly books would be classified as 'cozies' by mystery fans, and she displays a sense of humor in plot and character development not found in her mother's books. So again, the craft passes on but flows through different channels.
Ben Jonson wrote: "Greatness of name in the father oft-times helps not forth, but overwhelms the son; they stand too near one another. The shadow kills the growth." This has proved prescient in the careers of many children of famous author parents. Stephen King's son, Joe Hill, has not yet proved himself a craftsman comparable to his father, and John Updike's son, David, who has written some well-received children's books, is simply a different sort of writer than his father. However, as they develop their own voices, they will likely emerge as respected artists in their own right.
Andre Dubus III remarked that when he's asked "Do you think I have talent?" he replies that "sometimes, it's actually difficult to tell, especially since so much good writing comes from hard work, talent or not." Ultimately, though genetics may play a part, talent like genius comes to an individual alone and, even then, requires dedication to one's art to reach any real fruition.
First image: Mary Wollstonecraft
Second image: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Third image: Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark from The LA Times
Fourth image: Stephen King and Joe Hill from First Showing
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