Donald Anderson, editor. Andre Dubus: Tributes – Editor’s Choices – Book Review
New Orleans, Louisiana: Xavier Review Press, 2001.
Andre Dubus: Tributes, edited by Donald Anderson, is a eulogy for the late master of the short story, Andre Dubus, composed of critical study, bibliography, memoir, and homily. Anderson has found thirty-eight distinct contributors who offer insights into Dubus’ life and work. We hear from his son, Andre Dubus III; his agent, Philip G. Spitzer; fellow writer, Frederick Busch; his first publisher, David R. Godine; his sister, Kathryn Dubus; friend, Tobias Wolff; first cousin, James Lee Burke, and those who knew him only through his writing: Marilyn Abildskov, Darrell Spencer, and James Hughes Meredith.
Many of the contributors delve into how Dubus created characters who feel more real than fictional. Will Hochman wrote in his essay, “The Ongoing Poetry of Andre Dubus,” “Dubus’ narrative art is secured by his ability to make the best parts of a story not told or shown so much as experienced” (160). Hochman argues that when creating characters, Dubus drew heavily from his own struggles with faith, physical hardship, and loss of love. For example, in “If They Knew Yvonne” the main character’s struggle with the definition of sin reflects Dubus’ own. Dubus, though, never was that young boy and as Hochman states the beauty of Dubus’ talent was that he could fully embody another person through his writing. He writes:
Part of the poetic element in Dubus’ prose is that his ear stays
true to the rhythms of everyday talk and experience, while his eye
takes us deeply into the souls of his characters and himself. […]
This mindfulness is a consciousness of writing for Dubus that is
very much centered by his sense of otherness, which perhaps explains
his exceptional ability to write from both male and female points of
view. John Keat’s idea of “negative capability” is another way to
phrase Dubus’ method of writing himself into “the man I normally am
Thomas G. Bowie, Jr. in his essay “Witness to Death and Life: The Literary Nonfiction of Andre Dubus” agrees that Dubus successfully created characters vastly unlike himself. The power of this type of storytelling lies in what Bowie calls the “honesty of the emotion” and the ability to make these imagined lives believable. He writes, “[Dubus’ stories] engage concrete realities of lives lived together, lives that have slowly unraveled. The stories avoid abstractions, firmly rejecting lack of honesty, or lack of commitment” (145). Dubus gains this integrity by earning his characters’ motives. Throughout his stories, he shows who these characters are and why they make the choices they make. By the end, we understand that there was no other possible conclusion because Dubus followed the natural progression of his characters. In Ross Gresham’s section of Dubus’ interviews, he provides a quote by Dubus on this topic, “[For “Miranda Over the Valley”] I wrote the ending over several times because she was so hard at the end and I didn’t want her to be so hard. I kept writing that last scene over and over, but Miranda remained hard” (170).
Tributes shows Dubus as a talented and masterful writer, but still a writer who was concerned with the struggles of writing: character motivation, plot, and point of view. Dubus did not let his modest fame keep him from getting in the dirt with novice writers and talking about what makes a story work. Kai Maristed, a writer who attended his at-home workshops, writes that Dubus “wasn’t the boss. He did not initiate or manipulate the discussion. He laid his own writing bare, reading from his starts, from his notebook. He revealed how he worked, or tried to […]” (76). Lara JK Wilson had a similar experience as a writer at another of Dubus’ at-home workshops. “He’d quote Chekov, Hemingway, Dick Yates, Iris Murdoch, Tobias Wolff, and would lighten things up with his whole-soul laugh, cursing and insisting that it is the writer who has the answers” (111). These small but insightful moments show Dubus as a man who could not be separated from his writing. Many essayists recount Dubus’ enjoyment of talking about writing and of the theraputic nature these gatherings had for him towards the end of his life.
Andre Dubus: Tributes also contains a critical study of Dubus, exploring the poetry of his prose, his literary nonfiction, dedication to emotional truth, and Catholic influences. In Brian Hanley’s essay “Andre Dubus Admist the Critics,” he calls for more and better in-depth scholarly research on Dubus’ work, writing that “There are a dozen or so scholarly articles and even a pair of doctoral dissertations on Dubus, but most of these are of no particular value to the general reader” (131). This section provides resourceful tools in viewing Dubus’ work from a scholarly vantage point for both general readers and writers interested in a close analysis of Dubus’ language, themes, nonfiction essays, and Catholicism.
This collection remembers Dubus in all facets of his life, from childhood to the Marines to Iowa and through three marriages, three divorces, and a life altering hit-and-run accident. The collection isn’t just about remembering the man. Tributes offers lessons on craft, discipline, generosity, faith, and perseverance. But above all it is a tribute to the master. As Lee K. Abbott wrote, “Thank you, Andre Dubus, for the flesh made word” (22).
Albry Montalbano is currently attending New School University for her MFA in creative writing.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Fairleigh Dickinson University
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group