First of a two-volume collection of short fiction by Dubus (Dancing After Hours, 1996, etc.), a Chekhov-ian laureate of silences and secrets.
As Ann Beattie notes in her introduction to this volume, which gathers the collections Separate Flights (1975) and Adultery & Other Choices (1977), Dubus (1936-1999), a Catholic Louisianan so long resident in the Northeast that he is often thought of as a New England writer, was unusually capable of populating his work with believable women, “and it may be more unusual than I realize that he so consistently created and stayed so close to his female characters.” That much emerges from the short stories and novellas gathered here, though in the end the men in them often behave badly. In the title story, a writer on a leafy campus stuns his much-suffering wife with “sordid, drunken adultery”; she remains with him, her suffering continuing, while he continues his miscreant ways, and life goes on, awaiting further betrayals and disappointments. Many of the stories have a military setting, befitting Dubus’ service in the Marine Corps; in one, “Corporal of Artillery,” the title character re-enlists for reasons he himself doesn’t quite understand, then returns to a wife whom he barely seems to know, a woman who behaves “as though she were playing grown-up when here she was with three kids and not even old enough to vote yet.” When Dubus’ characters speak to each other, it is more often to speak past each other. For all that, Dubus finds an elegant sort of theology even in mutual incomprehension and bad behavior; in the meaningfully titled story “Adultery,” a former priest finds profound meaning in lovemaking: “Our bodies aren’t just meat then; they become statement too; they become spirit.” In such moments, Dubus reveals a kinship not with Raymond Carver, with whom he is often paired, but instead with Flannery O’Connor.
A welcome gathering of work by a writer always worth reading.