Broken Vessels

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

BROKEN VESSELS is Andre Dubus’ first collection of essays. His frank, intelligent, and probing voice will be familiar to readers of his short fiction; indeed, his essays are as tightly constructed as his stories, but his subject matter is, most often, his own life and his own thoughts.

Quite a few of the essays were written after a 1986 highway accident in which Dubus saved a life but lost a leg (becoming, in his own words, a “cripple"); that accident, as well as his subsequent divorce from his third wife, figures largely in this collection. The title of the book is adapted from a comment by physical therapist, referring to a story from the Book of Jeremiah, about a potter who smashes a cracked pot he was making and creates a new one. “You can’t make a new vessel out of a broken one,” she tells him. “It is time to find the real you.” In the author’s use of this thought for the title of his book, the implication is that building this collection of essays about his life is a part of his attempt to find and construct the new vessel he can be.

One of the themes that Dubus returns to repeatedly is the question of what masculinity means, or can mean, in the late twentieth century. It’s a question he deals with in “Under the Lights,” about playing baseball as a young boy and watching grown men toil at the bottom of the minor leagues; “The Judge and Other Snakes,” about an assault by a young man on a young woman which Dubus...

(The entire section is 409 words.)