Andre Dubus’ decision to tell his story of the emotional toll taken on a middle-aged married couple in a small New England town of their youngest child’s murder in a nonlinear manner lends “Killings” an emotional weight that might have been diminished had the story been presented in a strict chronological order. By opening the story with the Fowler family preparing to depart the cemetery where they have just buried their son and brother, the reader is quickly thrust into an emotionally-devastating tale in which the kidnapping and murder of the man responsible for Frank’s death forms the heart of the story. Dubus interjects details of the act of revenge with Matt Fowler’s memories of his dead son and images of Frank enjoying life, including with Natalie, the ex-wife of Frank’s killer, Richard Strout. Dubus describes Matt’s memories of raising his and Ruth’s three children while constantly worrying about their safety, only to see Frank grow up and have his life cut short, and the vengeance over which he fantasized with respect to Richard Strout:
“ . . .he and his children had survived their childhood, and he only worried about them when he knew they wre driving a long distance, and then he lost Frank in a way no father expected to lose his son, and he felt that all the fears he had borne while they were growing up, and all the grief he had been afraid of, had backed up like a huge wave and struck him on the beach and swept him out to sea. . . Beneath his listless wandering, every day in his soul he shot Richard Strout in the face . . .”
This passage from “Killings” occurs in the mind of Matt as he and Willis escort the kidnapped Strout to the site where they will execute him. This approach to story-telling provides Dubus the means to repeatedly illuminate Matt’s state of mind as he deals with the death of his son, the emotional devastation the death has had on his marriage to Ruth, and his determination to avenge Frank’s murder.
Dubus could have told his story in a more conventional, linear fashion. Whether doing so would have provided for the same emotional impact, however, is unlikely. The background information provided in Matt’s reflections on the past enables the reader to fully comprehend the emotional weight under which the Fowlers have been living, and to understand the essential decency they represent. That they have it in themselves to carry out the murder of Richard Strout provides “Killings” its’ tragic power.