Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III

Read in November 2013

4 of 5 stars

Andre Dubus writes about characters whose troubles mirror our own. They are worried about money, getting to work on time, their children, their spouses, their aging parents... But within a framework that on the surface appears simple, Dubus finds a way to probe his characters' lives and personal histories deeply and intimately, and, in compelling fashion, to explore complex moral issues that revolve around love, duty, fidelity, and sexual temptation and betrayal. He's at the top of his form in this collection of four loosely connected shorter pieces. These are closely observed stories that strip away each character's protective shell to reveal the vulnerable core. A man of late middle age discovers his wife is having an affair, but despite the shock of discovering some uncomfortable truths about himself is still capable of generosity; a lonely young woman desperate for love enters a relationship with a self-absorbed computer geek and can't bring herself to back out when she begins to have doubts; a young bartender behaves stupidly, risking his marriage, only realizing how precious to him his wife and child are when everything hangs in the balance; and in the title story a teenage girl who has been ostracized by her peers because of a sexually explicit video develops a close bond with her elderly great-uncle, but is still helplessly addicted to the technology that betrayed her. These are wise, compassionate and memorable fictions that demand close reading and touch us emotionally and intellectually while teaching us how to survive and endure when the modern world blindsides us. The writing is eloquent and detailed without being florid, only occasionally indulging in verbosity that seems excessive. The meandering final sections of the last piece "Dirty Love" keep the book from a five-star rating, but this is a minor caveat. As accomplished as his novels are, Andre Dubus seems at home in these shorter fictions. These are some of his strongest works yet. One of the best books of 2013.