The Forgotten Father

January 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

In contrast, Dubus’s fiction scratches and tears. His stories document the sexual and violent collisions between men and women. Manipulation, jealousy, and revenge: these fictive men are often terrible. They are shadows of the male archetypes chiseled by his similarly Catholic predecessor, Ernest Hemingway.

At The Millions, Nick Ripatrazone writes about Andre Dubus, one of the first writers I studied as an undergrad English major, yet who has received little critical inquiry since his death in 1999 and who has earned no kind of legacy for himself outside of his son, novelist Andre Dubus III (House of Sand and Fog) and a couple of cinematic treatments of his novellas (In the Bedroom; We Don’t Live Here Anymore).

Ripatrazone describes the elder Dubus as a chronicler of male moral turmoil brought about by the conflicts of impulse and faith:

When [Vivian Gornick] writes that his “work describes with transparency a condition of life it seems, almost self-consciously, to resist making sense of,” she recognizes the almost rubber tendency of Dubus’s fiction. His characters are trapped in worlds timed by their immediate needs: “they drink, they smoke, they make love: without a stop.” Because “sexual love is entirely instrumental,” relationships fail again and again. Marriage falls into adultery, adultery into loneliness, and then the cycle repeats.

Two Dubus stories that stood out to me (from Dubus’ 1983 collection, The Times Are Never So Bad) were “Bless Me, Father,” in which a man is confronted by his college-freshman daughter about his extramarital affair, and, interestingly, one in which a father’s influence is imparted through his absence, “The New Boy,” about a teenager who, once emboldened by a new friend from the neighborhood, acts out by interfering with the sex lives of his divorced mother and older sisters:

They rarely said anything he wanted to know, but he liked hearing their voices and watching their faces and hands: they spoke of clothes, and he looked with tender amusement at their passionate eyes, their lips closing on cigarettes with sensuous pouts he knew they had practiced; hair fell onto their cheeks, and their hands rose to it and lightly swept it back, as if stroking a spider web. From the house behind him, his mother came with a broad tray: a bottle of white wine in an ice bucket, a bowl of fruit, four plates with crepes, a glass of milk, and ringed napkins. He believed Julie—but maybe Stephanie—had asked one Sunday: What did you do with Dad’s napkin ring?

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