Andre Dubus 1936–
American short story writer, novelist, and essayist.
The following entry presents criticism on Dubus's works through 1996. See also Andre Dubus Criticism (Volume 13).
Characterized as a Southerner who seldom writes about the South, Dubus is known for realistic fiction that explores the desires, disillusionment, and moral dilemmas of contemporary American society, and he is noted for his deft creation of believable characters in everyday circumstances. Critics particularly acknowledge Dubus's realistic portrayal of the thoughts and emotions of his female protagonists.
Dubus grew up in a middle-class Southern family. He has credited his lifelong Catholicism with sharpening his sense of curiosity about people and their actions and with serving as a foundation for his compassion toward others. He served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps before entering the University of Iowa in 1964 to pursue graduate studies in writing. By 1966 Dubus was living in Massachusetts, the setting for many of his works, and teaching modern fiction and creative writing at Bradford College. His first novel, The Lieutenant, was published the following year. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Dubus continued lecturing and writing short stories and novellas. In 1986 he lost one leg and nearly died in a highway accident that occurred when he stopped to help two stranded motorists. During his rehabilitation, Dubus wrote and published a collection of essays, Broken Vessels (1991), several of which specifically reflect the physical and emotional pain of this experience. He has been awarded Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships; at the age of 59, Dubus won the Rea Award for short story writing.
Dubus is best known for well-plotted, realistic stories which typically center on the turbulence, and sometimes the violence, of male-female relationships. Although his characters often attempt to escape the pain of unstable marriages by committing adultery—as in the stories of Dubus's first collection, Separate Flights (1975), and in the title story of Adultery, and Other Choices (1977)—their promiscuous affairs usually intensify, rather than relieve, their dissatisfaction. Catholicism is a strong and generally positive presence in Dubus's fiction. The lifelong struggle to reconcile the remnants of one's religious training with the desires and demands of contemporary American life is a central theme in each of the four novellas and two short stories which comprise The Last Worthless Evening (1986). In "A Father's Story" from The Times Are Never So Bad (1983), a man whose daughter has killed someone in an automobile accident seeks comfort through religious ritual and a compassionate priest. Two stories from this collection revolve around abused women: "The Pretty Girl" describes a man who terrorizes his ex-wife and her lover, and "Leslie" concerns a disillusioned woman beaten by her drunken husband. Much of the writing in Broken Vessels and Dancing After Hours (1996) grew out of Dubus's experiences after his accident in 1986. "The exuberant self of memory [in Broken Vessels] and the chastened self he possesses after the accident war with each other," Leonard Kriegel noted, as Dubus lays bare the pain of losing the mobility and physical activities he cherished as well as the self-sufficiency he believed was expected of him. With Dancing After Hours Dubus melds his experiences as a cripple, the term he prefers, with the themes of his previous work, exploring "the ways lives can suddenly change, sometimes with sudden cruelty, sometimes with grace," as a Publishers Weekly critic explained. The title story of the collection earned Dubus the Rea Award for short fiction in 1996.
Dubus has received generally favorable critical attention throughout his career. He has been particularly noted for his ability to explore the ethical contradictions of society through the perspective of ordinary people whose everyday lives are laced with ambivalence and moral conflict. Although some critics have found Dubus's work powerful and relevant but "depressing to read," as Charles Deemer remarked, or his characters "resolutely ungiving and uncharming," as Joyce Carol Oates asserted, Dubus's sensitive portrayal of the inner lives of both men and women has merited critical praise. Many reviewers have remarked on the impact of Dubus's accident on his writing, praising the wisdom and grace with which he recovered from and continues to manage the devastating changes it brought to his life.