Style and Technique
“Killings,” one of Dubus’s best-known and most respected stories, was the basis for the film In the Bedroom (2001). Although the story revolves around passion and violence, Dubus tells the tale in a flat, calm way. The first two acts of violence are dropped into the story unexpectedly and without emotion. The story opens with Frank’s funeral, then moves on to the conversation between Willis and Matt about how Matt wishes he could kill the man who murdered his son, but the reader does not know who killed Frank, how, or why. Next, in a long descriptive paragraph, Richard is introduced. He is first connected to Frank by the flat opening line of the next paragraph: “One night he beat Frank.” Only then does the reader learn about Mary Ann, and Matt’s and Ruth’s differing feelings about her.
In a lovely, lyrical scene, Mary Ann joins the Fowlers for a barbeque after a day at the beach. Matt’s love for his son is mixed with a wistful attraction to Mary Ann. She is beautiful, but Matt sees in her eyes a sadness and pain that he and his family have been spared, and he wishes he could help and comfort her. The next paragraph starts with, “Richard Strout shot Frank in front of the children.” Such jarring shifts of mood are used to emphasize how quickly life can turn from sunny to violent and how swiftly the good things in life can be taken away.
The story’s point of view is that of the limited omniscient narrator. The reader sees the events through Matt’s eyes only, so Ruth’s and Willis’s roles in the tragedy are only implied. There is little dialogue; instead, Dubus paints vivid descriptions of the small details of life: the sights that the men pass on their way to Richard’s home and to the place of his execution, the way Richard’s socks and underwear are folded in the drawer when Matt makes him pack his suitcase, and Matt’s memory of his children climbing trees.