Second of a two-volume collection of short fiction by Dubus (Broken Vessels, 1991, etc.), gathering the previous volumes Finding a Girl in America (1980) and The Times Are Never So Bad (1983).
In his lively introduction, Richard Russo posits that Dubus’ (1936-1999) often awkward, often confused characters “are too shy or inarticulate or uneducated or lacking in self-awareness to speak for themselves.” A fine case in point, as he notes, is Dubus’ story “Anna,” in which the title character, long envious of the good luck of those who can buy the things she can’t afford, spends part of the proceeds of a clumsy robbery on a “round blue Hoover vacuum cleaner” whose cord is longer than her apartment and that, in the end, doesn’t do much to elevate her from a humdrum existence of drugs, beer, and laundromats that toss her clothes “like children waving from a ferris wheel.” If literature is populated, in the main, by unhappy characters, Dubus’ are unhappier than most, caught up in cheerless lives as bank branch managers or dollar-store cashiers; there’s a kinship with Raymond Carver in Dubus’ attention to working-class people, but he is the greater master of meaningful compression, in which a whole novel is packed into a couple of sentences: “He bled to death, so even then she could have done something. I want to hate her for that. I will, too.” Dubus’ bleakly proletarian settings, featuring such things as a dumpster “on whose lee side teenagers on summer nights smoked dope and drank beer,” are themselves whole universes, as are the military environments in which his stories are sometimes set; all offer a kind of rough humor (“sometimes she disliked him for being alive”) in the face of the endless dissatisfactions and disappointments of life.
This set, comprising this volume and We Don’t Live Here Anymore, will likely do much to revive interest in Dubus’ early work.