Andre Dubus Dubus, Andre (Vol. 13) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Dubus, Andre 1936–

An American novelist and short story writer, Dubus writes contemporary fiction concerning the relationship of the individual to society, focusing on loneliness, pettiness, and jealousy. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)

Walter Sullivan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Andre Dubus] is a southerner who almost never writes about the South. Most of the stories in Separate Flights take place in New England or the Middle West, and on a superficial level they have a great deal in common with the work of [Alan] Sillitoe, for they are filled with images and acts of sex. Dubus is good with quick strokes, slight details that bring whole sequences into focus…. Minor characters, people seen briefly in bars or at filling stations, give Dubus's work an enhanced sense of reality and an enriched texture.

What I do not like about Dubus's stories is the cumulative effect of the collection as a whole, the sameness of characterization from one piece to the next, the obsession with sexual congress and crumbling affections. For example, almost without exception the men, whatever their ages or morals or professions, are given to physical exercise. They run before breakfast; they work out at the gym. Men and women drink and smoke too much, so that one gets the feeling that Dubus cannot discover what business to put them to: when they are out of bed, they do not know what to do with their hands. This is a small matter, and one which a writer of Dubus's talent could easily rectify, but the obsession with sex gives me more serious concern. Sillitoe's people drink and fornicate because they are poor and bored and ignorant and desperate: such is the state of things in Nottingham. But has the whole world become an extension of this English hopelessness? Are the possibilities of literature reduced in our time to variations on a single theme? (pp. 544-45)

"Miranda over the Valley" … in my judgment shows Dubus at his best…. To get inside the mind of a woman and to portray her joy and her agony as Dubus has done here is accomplishment indeed. We have no right to ask him to do better. (pp. 545-46)

Walter Sullivan, in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor; © 1975 by The University of the South), Summer, 1975.

Michael Harris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It would not be inaccurate to call Andre Dubus an old-fashioned writer, for … he writes plotted stories about recognizable human beings in a language that, however highly polished, is nonetheless the English that you and I speak. Dubus is good at it—so good, in fact, that if the seven short stories and the novella that make up Separate Flights are your introduction to his work, as they were for me, you're apt to wonder where he's been hiding. He hasn't, of course—no more than any other purveyor of fictional subtleties in an age that prefers journalism and being kicked in the teeth.

But in another sense Dubus isn't old-fashioned at all. In the emotional weave of American literature, resignation is a minor strand, a barely visible warp in so much aspiration and struggle. One went down fighting, like Ahab, despairing, like Gatsby, or at least babbling, like Portnoy; but so long as life was alleged to promise Americans everything, resignation was a rarity. In the 1970s, this has changed. Significant numbers of us have turned our backs on the public life and brought to the private life a closer scrutiny than it can stand. The limitations of love become the dimensions of our cells. The resignation we have learned is not the stolid acceptance of the European peasant, but a painful awareness, by people who once expected better, that horizons are shrinking. Dubus is by no means a writer of tracts for the times, but he captures this mood as well as anyone today….

There is nothing cheap or easy about these stories, nor is there anything dense about the characters. They look out through the gaps in their lives with remarkable clarity of vision, and with an equal clarity—wedded with compassion and insight—Dubus looks in on them, making their sorrows our own.

Michael Harris, "Love's Limitations," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1975, The Washington Post), July 20, 1975, p. 3.

Richard Todd

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I have a candidate [for "Most Underrated Writer of 1975"], a man who published a book this year to the merest flutter of applause, and deserved much more: Andre Dubus…. Dubus writes in an almost painfully unmodish way. He lacks tricks of style. He does not have a head full of helpful sociological constructs about his world. He is not a particularly close observer of trends in manners or speech. But he knows things. [The stories in Separate Flights] are mostly about spent and misspent love, and he knows how to dramatize love's counterfeit emotions: loneliness, jealousy, and pity. He's an imaginative writer, persuasive on the inner lives of women as well as of men. He can imagine his way, for instance, into the mind of a middle-aged woman so hungry to participate in her daughter's life that she incurs only her scorn. Debus is the sort of writer who instructs the heart, a phrase that ought to be redundant, but isn't. He ought to be discovered by any number of readers, but probably won't. (p. 96)

Richard Todd, in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1976 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), January, 1976.

Joyce Carol Oates

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Separate Flights] consists of a novella and seven short stories, each of which is a considerable achievement. Dubus's attentiveness to his craft and his deep commitment to his characters make the experience of reading these tales—which are almost without exception about lonely, pitiful people—a highly rewarding pleasure.

The author of a novel, The Lieutenant, published in 1967, Dubus writes in a vein that might be considered naturalistic, since he relies to a great extent upon charting his characters' experiences in a highly recognizable world, following them closely from one hour to the next, from one drink to the next, recording their unexceptional dialogues with one another, with great subtlety and tact pinpointing their rare moments of insight. All of his people are ordinary, though some have pretensions to being intellectual; many are trapped in stultifying marriages, though Dubus never suggests that they might have been capable of arranging other fates. Their arguments are familiar, even banal. Their defenses against the panic of dissolution are commonplace: drinking and adultery. But though Dubus's materials are naturalistic, and his style is never self-consciously lyric or poetic, one sees in the craftsmanship of the tales a rigorous paring-back, a concern for what is implied rather than stated, so that the stories as a whole—the eight "separate flights" of the collection—come to operate symbolically, to mean much more than they record. (p. 105)

The only complaint a reader might make about Separate Flights is Dubus's habit of characterizing his people by recording in detail the drinks they have: bourbon, Scotch, wine, martinis, gin, beer and ale. The possibilities are limited and it is here, perhaps, that the "naturalistic" technique is most troublesome. In general, however, Dubus's considerable skill transcends his material, and the collection is a fine one. (p. 106)

Joyce Carol Oates, in The Ontario Review (copyright © 1976 by The Ontario Review), Fall-Winter, 1976–77.

Frances Taliaferro

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Andre Dubus is a skillful and temperate writer. [Adultery and Other Stories] takes some getting used to. As when a harpsichordist opens his recital with sounds that seem unbearably faint after the noise outside, Dubus invites us into a world of quiet melodies. Gradually the ear learns to hear them. When Dubus writes about growing up in Louisiana, he finds nothing of the Southern Gothic. These fine stories are the equivalent of Hopper landscapes, anywhere in small-town America…. People play golf, go to barbecues, have fights around the Coke machine at school. The mystery is out of all proportion to the events. "Contrition," the best story, is ostensibly about ten-year-old Paul and his brief involvement with the French horn. In fact it says all that ever need be said about the pain of family love. The title story, "Adultery," takes as its epigraph a quotation from Simone Weil: "Love is a direction and not a state of the soul." Dubus constructs a disturbing spiritual framework that mocks the accustomed tackiness of the subject. Less good are several rather trite stories set in the U.S. Marine community. This collection is uneven, but Dubus at his best can evoke thoughts that lie too deep for tears. (p. 87)

Frances Taliaferro, in Harper's (copyright © 1977 by Harper's Magazine; all rights reserved; excerpted from the January, 1978 issue by special permission), January, 1978.