Monday, July 17, 2023

A Kinder, Gentler Dubus?

When I have described Andre Dubus III in the past to people who do not know his work, I used to say, "The man writes only tragedies." He writes of the woes of the working class, treating the same topics as Raymond Carver's K-mart realism, but with an antithetical style: he weaves intricate tapestries of trouble. His best known work is probably The House of Sand and Fog, on which an acclaimed movie was based, the story of a tug of war between two families, with the house in the middle; in the end, there are no winners.

My favorite of his work is The Garden of Last Days, which alternates between the perspectives of a working class man, a stripper, and a pilot training to crash an airplane into a tower. Another work with only a kernel of hope at the end.

Dubus' latest work, Such Kindness, focuses on one Tom Lowe, who has indeed been laid low. First by the variable interest rate mortgage fiasco. Then by a fall from the top of a roof he was repairing. Then from oxycodone addiction as he recovered from his broken back and pelvis. Along the way he lost his wife and son. Now Tom sits, or rather lies, in his Section 8 housing unit, fretting over what he can do for his son's 20th birthday.

Then somehow Tom begins to change. He rediscovers the line between right and wrong, and determines not to cross it. He becomes more open to his neighbors. And he begins receiving small gifts of kindness. Such kindness that he must pay it forward.

Glancing through other reviews of this book, I did see the word "cloying." And perhaps Tom's story is implausible to some. But perhaps those people have not hit rock bottom, and what a gift that is. I think it's a meditation on growth and gratitude, two things we all could use.