Critical Overview

Dubus is a well-respected master of the short story form. "Killings" marked an early note in a long career of consistently well-developed characters and a direct language that stirs readers.

The bereaved father in "Killings" draws both horror and compassion from the reader. Matt's sense of parenthood and love for his wife present him as the ideal father and husband. The fact that he can commit murder is unbelievable. Dubus fills in another dimension of the drama genre: killing for revenge is as an age-old story, from Cain and Able to Greek and Roman tragedies. It is part of human history and human nature. Dubus recaptures that sense in a post-modern town in America in the twentieth century.

Joshua Bodwell praises Dubus, saying that he writes with a delicate power that many authors lack. He brushes over sentiment and offers an opportunity to view every character, even the most heinous, with a sliver of dignity. For example, Richard occupies a home that is clean, neat, and tidy—and yet he commits murder in front of his own children.

Dubus characters are memorable because they are weak, broken, and strong-willed. Matt is a tragic character because of his love for his wife and family. In a sense, he has no choice. He must avenge the death of his son and ease his family's pain. On moral issues, Ruth and Matt show signs that they want to be good people when they attempt to understand Mary Ann. They offer concessions for her life: her previous marriage and her age are not problems, they say. Ruth wants to show she has a generous heart when she comments that Mary Ann is embarrassed to bring her children to their house. However, their attitudes may truly be too rigid to fit Mary Ann into their lives. This is a delicate balance that Dubus is presenting. As the Boston Herald noted about Dubus, “he separates the drama from the melodrama.”

Dubus’s characters are also a complex mix of action and constraint with...

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