Third volume in the Godine series reissuing the short stories and novellas of Dubus (1936-1999).
Originally published in 1984 and 1986, the volumes that underlie this collection represent Dubus at perhaps the apex of his career. The stories and novellas gathered here are often topical and even everyday; many of them speak to Dubus’ preoccupations, including racism and the military life. “Deaths at Sea” addresses both, its protagonist an African-American naval officer at sea on a ship where, in the early 1960s, he is still a rarity, recalling incidents of racial collision among sailors at the dawn of the civil rights era. “He’d hang on like they say a snapping turtle does,” writes Dubus of one justice-bent sailor, “and even if you beat him on strength alone, you’d end up wishing you had never seen him, and you’d make certain you didn’t see him again.” The story “Dressed Like Summer Leaves” is a smaller vignette and less interesting except as a near-journalistic account of a barroom squabble between Vietnam veterans: “I ate chow with nightmares,” one says bitterly, with the inevitable plea to the bartender, “Al, will you shut off that shithead so we can drink in peace?” The set piece is effective enough, but Newton Thornburg made more of the same elements in his novel Cutter and Bone a few years earlier. Another constant interest of Dubus’, namely religion, figures in several pieces, including the hitherto uncollected title piece: “A misfit has to live long enough to stop being a misfit,” says the disaffected protagonist, for whom communion isn’t providing the necessary answers. All of Dubus’ characters are searchers—and some find what it is they’re looking for, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
A welcome gathering in a worthy project to bring Dubus’ work to a new generation of readers.