Stories of men and women attempting to live together, to tell the truth as they see it or don't see it , and to survive the crises, and sometimes the violence, of domestic life. Upon its publication in , Tobias Wolff wrote, "'It is a world of secrets, ' says the narrator of A Father's Story. Andre Dubus's fine new collection is made of those secrets, observed with an art that is luminous with honesty and generosity. Dubus is interested in essential things--in the shadowy powers that circle our lives and the slender resources of faith and love with which we try to keep them at bay.
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By Andre Dubus. Boston: David R. Thomas More with which no one would wish to quarrel: ''The times are never so bad but that a good man can live in them. Dubus's characters are not precisely ''good'' - most of them perform criminal actions of one kind or another - we are allowed to see how they define themselves as other than merely ''bad'' through the author's extraordinary sympathy with them; he has a gift for conveying, with a wonderful sort of clairvoyance, their interior voices.
Indeed, the strongest pieces in the collection - the novella and the final story, ''A Father's Story'' - are really triumphs of voice, memorable for their resonance.
The 56 page novella, ''The Pretty Girl,'' ranks with the strongest stories in Mr. It may be the most compelling and suspenseful work of fiction this author has written. The ''pretty girl'' of the title is a young woman named Polly, separated from her husband for reasons mysterious to him but quite clear to us and fated to be his killer. She is a nearalcoholic in her mid's, said to be intelligent but in fact sleepwalking through life, oddly alone but rarely feeling herself lonely.
Polly's very prettiness estranges her from women who might otherwise be friends: ''With her girlhood friends she had developed a style that pleased men. But talking with a woman was scrutiny, and always she was conscious of her makeup, her pretty face, her long black hair, and the way her hands moved with a cigarette, a glass, patting her hair in place at the brow, pushing it back from a cheek. She studied the other woman too, seeing her as a man would; comparing her, as a man would, with herself; and this mutual disassembly made them wary and finally mistrustful.
Vivid as Polly is in all her soiled innocence, her former husband Ray is even more forceful. He commits brutish actions - raping Polly at knife-point, badly injuring her lover, sprinkling gasoline around her house at night and lighting it - but he isn't wholly a brute.
Dubus's builds his portrait of Ray in a slow, detailed, fastidious way, allowing us to hear Ray's voice and to foresee his fate without quite passing judgment. Indeed, Mr. Dubus often seems to be arguing in these stories, judgment is beside the point: Things happen to people and are rarely willed by them.
Polly's and Ray's voices contend in the novella, and though Polly triumphs - if her desperate act of murder can be so described - it is Ray whose voice stays with us, plodding, self-justifying, ''logical.
That's not why I work out, but it's not a bad reason, and one that little guys should think about. Set beside the unhurried precision of ''The Pretty Girl,'' most of the other stories are somewhat underdeveloped, even sketchy. In ''Bless Me, Father'' a college girl discovers that her father is committing adultery and shames him into giving up his mistress. In ''Leslie in California'' a young wife broods over the fact that her husband, whom she loves and depends upon, has blackened her eye in one of his drunken frenzies - and not for the first time.
In the rather bleak and atonic ''The New Boy,'' a teenager, whose father has left his family, drifts almost brainlessly into self-destructive acts of vandalism in the company of a psychotic youth. These are spare pieces of fiction, willfully pruned, it seems, of the rich and idiosyncratic details that elsewhere make Mr.
Dubus's writing so good; they read rather more like excerpts from longer works than stories complete in themselves. He has no calling; he is lonely; he avoids bitterness as well as despair, talking to himself as well as to us in calm lucid passages: ''It is not hard to live through a day, if you can live through a moment.
What creates despair is the imagination, which pretends there is a future, and insists upon predicting millions of moments, thousands of days, and so drains you that you cannot live the moment at hand.
He becomes an accomplice to a crime but he doesn't feel himself a criminal: ''When I received the Eucharist I felt neither loneliness nor shame, but as though He were watching me, even from my tongue, intestines, blood, as I have watched my sons at times in their young lives when I was able to judge but without anger.
Andre Dubus's fiction is perhaps an acquired taste, for his characters are resolutely ungiving and uncharming. Most of them drink beer in vast quantities and contend with periodic hangovers; all of them are addicted to one thing or another, which Mr. Dubus examines with an extraordinary sympathy -drinking, smoking, black coffee, Quaaludes. When their various addictions fail they tend to think, like Ray, ''it's time to do some more terrorizing.
Where another writer might dramatize his characters' plights in order to reveal and exorcise their strategies of delusion, Mr. Dubus has other intentions. Like the hard-drinking protagonist of ''The Captain,'' who has survived an unspeakably gruelling experience in the war, he has learned ''of how often memory lies, and how often the lies are good ones.
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By Andre Dubus. Boston: David R. Thomas More with which no one would wish to quarrel: ''The times are never so bad but that a good man can live in them. Dubus's characters are not precisely ''good'' - most of them perform criminal actions of one kind or another - we are allowed to see how they define themselves as other than merely ''bad'' through the author's extraordinary sympathy with them; he has a gift for conveying, with a wonderful sort of clairvoyance, their interior voices. Indeed, the strongest pieces in the collection - the novella and the final story, ''A Father's Story'' - are really triumphs of voice, memorable for their resonance. The 56 page novella, ''The Pretty Girl,'' ranks with the strongest stories in Mr.
Comparing Leslie In California, By Andre Dubus