Killings Summary

In "Killings," Matt and Ruth Fowler struggle to come to terms with the murder of their son, Frank. Frank's murderer, Richard Strout, lives in town while awaiting trial. Convinced that Richard won't receive an adequate jail sentence, Matt decides to take matters in his own hands.

  • Frank starts dating Mary Ann Strout a month after her separation from Richard. Frank falls in love with Mary Ann, despite their age difference and the fact that her divorce isn't official.

  • Richard becomes increasingly violent and threatening. During a heated argument, he shoots Frank in the head. His family's wealth and connections allow him to walk free on bail while awaiting trial.

  • Richard's continued presence in town upsets Ruth. Matt kidnaps Richard and makes it seem like he skipped bail. After disposing of the body, Matt returns home to find Ruth waiting up for him.

Introduction

"Killings" by Andre Dubus was first published in The Sewanee Review in 1979. The short story was adapted into a critically acclaimed film titled In the Bedroom in 2001, directed by Todd Field.

"Killings" is set in a blue-collar town in Massachusetts. The story explores the psychology and emotions of a couple after their son, Frank, is murdered. Dubus treats the dark antagonist and murderer, Richard Strout, with small notes of empathy. Dubus provides horrifying detail during the revenge kidnapping of Strout as Matt, Frank's father, walks through the strange and tidy apartment. As a master of the short story craft, Dubus presents this scene with startling incongruity. How does a man who lives in this tidy manner commit such a brutal murder? Dubus brings Strout to a level that is startling: he is an ordinary man who commits an evil act. Who else in the story is capable of such brutality?

Critics note that Dubus’ style is concise, refined, and straight from the heart. Ann Beattie admires Dubus for his attention to female characters—and Dubus delivers a complex character in Ruth, Matt’s wife. The interactions between Ruth and Matt are often surprising. The situations engulf them and become larger than who they are.

Critics note that Dubus does not simply write about family: he writes well about the point of view within an individual family. He is inside the family. The voices of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, husbands and wives offer multiple perspectives in the action—and they inevitably get entangled. Dubus told The Yale Review that his job was to form the words on the page as his characters performed their acts. In "Killings," the actions are an affront to the reader and the words only serve to humanize their tragic choices and lives.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In August, Matt and Ruth Fowler buried their twenty-one-year-old son, Frank, who had been murdered. The next month, Matt tells his friend Willis how distressed he is that his wife, Ruth, keeps running into Richard, the man who killed their son and is out on bail until the trial. Willis, who owns a restaurant, says that Richard has come there with a date and tends bar in a nearby town. Matt admits that he has started carrying a gun, hoping that Richard will do something that gives him an excuse to shoot him. Ruth knows about the gun and does not believe that he keeps it at his store because of crime in the area.

Richard, a spoiled, bad-tempered man, had married young and had two children. Frank, home from college for the summer, met and began dating Mary Ann Strout a month after she and Richard had separated. Shortly after Frank and Mary Ann had begun dating, Richard came to Mary Ann’s house and assaulted Frank. Ruth already disapproved of her son dating an older woman with children, and her concerns were deepened by rumors that Mary Ann had been unfaithful to her husband. After the assault, Ruth became even more concerned that Frank was too involved with Mary Ann.

Matt enjoyed seeing Mary Ann with Frank, admiring her beauty and the couple’s youth and passion. However, he knew that his son was planning to start graduate school in the fall and doubted that Frank was serious about Mary Ann. One night, when Frank was having dinner with Mary Ann and her sons, Richard came to the house and shot Frank in the face and chest.

After a lifetime of being protective of his three children, Matt’s grief at his son’s murder overwhelms him, and his anger that Richard walks through town where Ruth can see him becomes unbearable. One night, Matt and Willis wait outside the bar where Richard...

(The entire section is 741 words.)