The short story "Killings" by Andre Dubus tells of a father's plan to kill the murderer of his son. The story begins at the funeral of Matt's son Frank. It then describes the effects on Matt, his wife Ruth, and Matt's friend Willis of Frank's killer, Richard Strout,...
The short story "Killings" by Andre Dubus tells of a father's plan to kill the murderer of his son. The story begins at the funeral of Matt's son Frank. It then describes the effects on Matt, his wife Ruth, and Matt's friend Willis of Frank's killer, Richard Strout, who is out on bail—being seen frequently in town. Matt tells Willis that he has been carrying a gun around with him, waiting for an opportunity to kill Strout.
The story then flashes back to explain why Strout killed Frank. Strout and his wife Mary Anne had recently separated and were soon to be divorced. Frank met Mary Anne, they started dating, and Frank began spending a lot of time with Mary Anne and her two children. One night, Strout beat Frank up, but that did not deter Frank from continuing to see Mary Anne. Although Matt and Ruth had concerns about the relationship, they could see that Frank was happy with Mary Anne. Then one evening, Strout walked in while Frank was watching TV with Mary Anne's children, and he shot and killed Frank.
The story returns to the present. Matt and Willis stop Strout at gunpoint, take him out to a wooded area where they have pre-dug a grave, shoot Strout, and bury him. Matt comes home to his wife, who asks him if he has done it. He affirms that he has, and his wife says that they shouldn't tell their other children about it.
Dubus orders the story the way it is because his intention is to focus on the character of Matt and his desire for revenge. Matt is the main character, not Frank, and the story is about the complex emotions that a parent might deal with after their child's murder that might cause them to want to kill the murderer in retaliation. Because the author's emphasis is on Matt, and to a lesser extent on Ruth and Willis, and the reaction of these people to the killing of Frank, it is necessary within the strict confines of a short story to start and finish with their viewpoints. That's why the explanation of Strout's motivation for killing Frank is told in flashback. Although it is an important aspect of the story, it is secondary to the main theme of revenge.
If the story were told in chronological order, it would probably have to begin with Frank's point of view and tell how he meets Mary Anne, gets beat up by Strout, eventually gets killed, and so on. Matt's desire for revenge would only appear after the story would be well underway, which would weaken its impact. Dubus wants readers to focus on the aftermath of the first killing, and that's why he begins with the funeral. In this way, readers are drawn into the revenge theme from the start.