Killings Summary
by Andre Dubus

Start Your Free Trial

Killings Summary

In Andre Dubus's "Killings," Matt and Ruth Fowler struggle to come to terms with the murder of their son, Frank. Distraught over Frank's killer's freedom, Matt enacts his own brand of justice.

  • Frank started dating Mary Ann Strout, Richard's ex-wife.

  • Richard became increasingly violent and threatening, culminating in him shooting Frank. His family's wealth allowed him to walk free on bail while awaiting trial.

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

Download Killings Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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

"Killings" begins with a funeral. Matt Fowler and his wife Ruth are burying their youngest son, Frank, who was murdered at age twenty-one. Steve and Cathleen, the Fowler’s two other children, are also at the funeral. It is revealed that Frank was shot in the head by Richard Strout, the estranged husband of Frank’s girlfriend, Mary Ann Strout.

Matt and Ruth are tormented when they see Richard around town. He is out on bail, and his freedom is incongruous with his vicious crime and their unbearable loss. When Ruth sees him at the counter at Sunnyhurst, she hides in the soup aisle until he leaves. There is also talk that Richard has a new girlfriend.

Richard Strout is twenty-six years old, and though he won a football scholarship to the University of Massachusetts, he dropped out of college after only two semesters (just before he would have been expelled for poor grades). After refusing an opportunity to help run his family's business, Richard ended up working as a bartender. He married Mary Ann, and they had two children after six years of marriage. Richard is known for his hot temper.

Following Frank’s death, Ruth encourages Matt to go and spend some time with his friends who are playing poker. After the game at his old friend Willis's house, Matt stays behind for a drink, thinking to himself about what Frank's death has cost him: the “quietly harried and quietly pleasurable days of fatherhood.”

Willis shares Matt's hatred for Richard, who comes to the restaurant Willis owns in town. The conversation then takes a dark turn: Willis and Matt discuss other murders...

(The entire section is 1,820 words.)