Posts Tagged Andre Dubus III

STEELE Picks: 20 Best Books of 2013

woman upstairs

1. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud [Knopf]
–a brilliant novel about anything but that typical woman upstairs. It’s about aspirations present and past, realized and forsaken.


2. The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna [Tin House Books]
–an intense book about squatting, community and political activism in the 90s

ghana must go

3. Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi [Penguin]
–a beautifully written book. haunting and lyrical. family, race, country, belonging.


4. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward [Bloomsbury]
–this memoir. raw. upsetting. the author mediates on the poverty in Louisiana and the black men she lost in its depths.


5. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat [Knopf]
–another novel in which I’m in awe of the writing style. gorgeous mystical tale about Haiti.


6. FEVER by Mary Beth Keane [Scribner]
-wondrous historical fiction about “Typhoid Mary.” fascinatingly imagined.

inbetween people

7. The Inbetween People by Emma McEvoy [The Permanent Press]
–stunning, powerful novel. Avi Goldberg writes from military prison because he refuses to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF]. He writes about his friend Saleem, an Israeli Arab he met. Their lives intertwine despite cultural differences and past troubles.

in the body of the world

8. In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler [Metropolitan]
–not only a memoir about Ensler’s personal journey with cancer but it’s a call to community, to get involved. so powerful I cried when I finished reading it.

valley of amazement

9. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan [ECCO]
–sweeping story about mothers and daughters set in turn-of-the-century Shanghai

Harvard Square

10. Harvard Square by Andre Aciman [W.W. Norton]
–melancholic, nostalgic autobiographical novel about belonging and assimilation that focuses on immigrants finding their place in America in the 70s.

sister mother husband dog

11. Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron [Blue Rider]
–the this essay collection, Delia tackles the profound to the superficial with wit, perception and charm. She maintains a steady wisdom-filled tone. She’s a woman who’s experienced plenty and shares mistakes, some secrets and reflects upon life-lessons with those willing to listen.

vampires in lemon grove

12. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell [Knopf]
–This collection of stories transports you to places you never imagined going to. Russell writes stories about variations on monsters. Beautiful, peculiar, unusual and tragic monsters. She creates bizarre, macabre and funny settings. Complete with vivid imagery, creepiness and potent emotions without an excess of verbiage. She writes dark, funny and tender.

freuds mistress

13. Freud’s Mistress by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack [Amy Einhorn]
–long rumored to have had an affair with his wife’s sister, Kaufman and Mack vividly imagine this sister’s character and life with the Freuds.


14. Montana by Gwen Florio [The Permanent Press]
–MONTANA drew me in immediately with its stellar page-turning plot, terrific characters and stunning descriptions of Montana scenery. Also Lola’s an independent feminist journalist determined to uncover the truth at any cost.

dirty love

15. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III [WW Norton]– author interview
–one of my all-time favorite authors writes vignettes about love, sex, relationships and the gritty, sticky, messy aftermath.


16. Lillian and Dash by Sam Toperoff [Other Press]
–What a charming novel that delves into the long affair between playwright Lillian Hellman [Little Foxes, The Children’s Hour] and noir author and screenwriter Dashiell Hammett [The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man].

big brother

17. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver [Harper Collins]
–Lionel Shriver expresses so many thoughts about obesity epidemic, how we indulge, how food is a treat, a central focus for holidays, outings, dates, meetings etc. Dazzling writing, vocabulary and character creation up until the ending.

together tea

18. Together Tea by Marjan Kamali [ECCO]– author interview
–insight into the immigrant experience. Humor, love, respect and mother-daughter bonding make this a book you’ll long remember after finishing the last page. It’s a love story to Persia as well as an acceptance for the United States.

hypothetical girl

19. The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen [Other Press]– author interview
–in this astute story collection, Elizabeth Cohen writes about dating in the digital age.

nothing serious

20. Nothing Serious by Daniel Klein [The Permanent Press]
–brilliant meditation on print media and its changing format and relevance.

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Dirty Love— a collection of novellas– focuses on what draws people toward one another and what pulls people apart in the name of love. What happens when fear, ego, power, desire and raw feelings influence our decisions? Beautifully written, evocative, emotionally wrought with layered characters and impossible situations. Love isn’t always what one expects it to be. Love can be emotional or physical. Love can be a bit of both. The writing never hides anything but peels away ugliness like a sunburn sloughs away one’s skin. There’s a wonderful sense of place and setting. Dark, gritty hideouts described with intricate detail. These characters and stories remains with you after the last page.

andre dubus

I recently spoke with Andre Dubus III by phone during a stop on his current book tour.

Amy Steele: Garden of Last Days is one of my favorite 9/11 novels, one of the best novels I’ve read. I loved it so much. And it’s being adapted into a film?

Andre Dubus III: Well James Franco pulled out of directing it but it’s still optioned by Gerard Butler’s production company. I think it’s still going to get made. I really appreciate you saying that because I don’t think enough people talk about it and I think it’s a better novel than anything I’ve ever written.

Amy Steele: Did you do a lot of research for (the novel)?

Andre Dubus III: Oh yeah I did a ton of research for it. I actually had to start writing just to read. I read the Koran twice. I read about the history of Saudi Arabia and Islam. I think some people see those three numbers 9/ 11 and they walk away. That might be changing now. People are more willing to step into an artistic exploration of that subject. All you can do is let it go.

Amy Steele: How did you come up with the latest idea for Dirty Love?

Andre Dubus III: The honest answer is I’m not sure. There’s a difference between making something up and imagining it. “The Bartender” and “Marla” came from longer stories that didn’t work. I realized they came from the same town. I realized I was writing deeply from an emotional center. I see a lot of marriages crash and burn around me and my wife. I’ve always been curious about how hard it is to love well and be loved.

Amy Steele: I saw comments on Goodreads that people think Dirty Love is depressing and some people consider the characters unlikeable. I’ve discussed reading and writing unlikeable characters in a writing group. How do you feel about writing unlikeable characters?

Andre Dubus III: I’m so glad you asked. Are we writing fucking sitcoms here? I’ll refute the whole notion of antagonist and protagonist. There’s not good guy and bad guy. To me they’re not cartoons. I rarely give a thought that characters have to be likeable. What am I here to fucking amuse you? I think the writer’s job is to paint the gray because no life is clearly defined. We are all living this dance and it is clearly fraught with making choices. Lots of my choices are bad and that’s normal. None of us are attractive at all times. What is attractive to me is authenticity. You know what a turn on is? Truth. You know what a turn off is? Perfume and smiling through fear.

dirty love

Amy Steele: I like this quote from “Listen Carefully As Our Options Have Changed:” “Other women, women like Anna Harrison, seemed to smile on reflex, as if this were something they were taught to do as young girls—be nice, be pretty, nice is pretty—and so you never knew if a woman was genuinely please with something you’d said or done, or not. But Laura only smiled when she felt like it, her eyes turning down at the corners, so it was gift to them all when she did, a gift to Frank Harrison Jr. too, who must have charmed her into doing that at the gym, the place he drove his Audi coupe to every Monday, Wednesday and Friday . . .”

Andre Dubus III: I hope there’s not harsh judgment from me in that passage. I have empathy for mainly women who are taught to do that especially in the South.

Amy Steele: How does writing affect your teaching and teaching affect your writing?

Andre Dubus III: I really like teaching at UMass Lowell because they are the type of kids I grew up with in Merrimack Valley. I really speak their language and I’m moved by the experience. I know I learn a lot from the students in my class and I’m not just saying that to sound like some generous teacher. Teaching well draws from the same well that writing draws from: the reserves of compassion and ability to listen and concentrate on another. So I have to have fine line between teaching and writing. I try not to ever think of career. I just try to go to the dream world every day.

Amy Steele: Back to Dirty Love again, one part up at Hampton Beach you got that so well. I can talk this way because I’m the snob. Hampton Beach is kinda scummy.

Andre Dubus III: Hampton compared to Salisbury is Paris to Detroit.

Amy Steele: There was a moment where she said that she felt he thought he was too good for her.

Andre Dubus III: He admits to himself that maybe his wife drifted away from him for some decent reasons.

Amy Steele: I can’t stand the term slut-shaming. [we discuss it a bit]

Andre Dubus III: It’s offensive. Your larger point is language is important and word choice is important. You can talk about promiscuity without saying slut.

Amy Steele: What do you think are the qualities of good writing?

Andre Dubus III: I can isolate what I find to be negative qualities. I’m not a fan of a lot of post-modern work that I think is self-indulgent, wordy and showing the vocabulary of the writer and the hip world-weariness of the writer. That kinda work leaves me cold. As a reader– generosity of the writer, humility where it’s about the subject and where it’s character-driven in a service of what’s trying to be captured. I read poetry every day. I love the boiled down essence of poetry. I look for poetry in prose. In a way that evocative.

Amy Steele: What do you like best about writing?

Andre Dubus III: I like trying to be other people. I really do. Eudora Welty has a lovely preface to her collected stories. She says the creative that she holds most high is trying to enter into another human being. People fascinate the hell out of me. I never get tired of watching people, listening to people. The best part is not getting up in front of people but meeting people. I like trying to find the right word that captures the thing I’m trying to describe. It’s very pleasurable when you feel like you’ve done it and very frustrating when you feel like you haven’t. It inspires you to work harder and that’s why I do it five or six days a week.

Andre Dubus III will be reading from Dirty Love at Harvard Book Store on Friday, October 25 at 6 pm. He’ll be at Concord Bookshop on November 17 at 3pm.

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Fall Books on My Radar

September Releases:

wrong girl

sister mother husband dog


help for the haunted



October Releases:

valley of amazement


we are water

dirty love

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BOOKS: author Andre Dubus III Fall Tour Dates

10/11 – Westford, MA – Westford Public Library
10/14 – Sturbridge, MA – “The New England Library Association”
10/19-21 – Beverly Hills, CA – Beverly Hills Literary Escape
10/23 – Manchester, MA – Manchester Essex Regional Middle High School

10/25 – Guilford, CT – Guilford Free Library
10/26 – Boston, MA – Boston Book Festival, “Fiction to Film”
10/30 – Charleston, SC – Ashley Hall School
11/3 – Boston, MA – “The Second Step”, Domestic Violence Prevention Fundraiser
11/7 – Stoneham, MA – Stoneham Public Library
11/10-11 – Sanibel Island, FL – The Sanibel Island Writers Conference
11/15 – Worcester, MA – Quinisigamond Community College
11/17-18 – Miami, FL – Miami International Book Fair
12/7 – Lowell, MA – University of Massachusetts Lowell, Tsongas Arena (w/ Stephen King)

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BOOKS: Best Nonfiction of 2011

1. The Orchard by Theresa Weir [Grand Central Publishing]
2. Rape New York by Jana Leo [The Feminist Press]
3. This Life is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman [Harper]
4. Townie by Andre Dubus III [W.W. Norton]
5. Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write about Real Sex edited by Erica Jong [ECCO]

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TOWNIE: A MEMOIR– book review

TOWNIE: a memoir, by Andre Dubus III. Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (February 28, 2011). Memoir. Hardcover, 400 pages.

I was tired of being a townie. I was tired of this town.

Did you see the Academy-Award-nominated film The Fighter? It took place in a violent neighborhood in Lowell, in the Merrimack Valley. That’s the kind of environment Andre Dubus III grew up in. Instead of becoming a boxer, he wrote his way out of this crackling, exasperating, scary and often limiting environment. These are the types of towns where the success stories, unfortunately, are few and far between. Someone is more likely to be stabbed, end up in prison or die of a drug overdose than become a best-selling novelist. TOWNIE is a memoir about how violence shaped Andre Dubus III as an author when he discovered that the pen is mightier than the fist.

Summer came and now windows were open and there was Larry’s yelling, there was a woman yelling back at him or somebody else in another house, there was the canned laughter and commercial jingles of six or seven TVs, there was a bottle breaking, a drunk singing, a motorcycle or lowrider revving its engine, then peeling away from the curb, there were the smell soft hot asphalt, the dusty concrete of broken sidewalks, cat shit and dog shit and gasoline, there was the wood baking in the lumberyard near the Merrimack, again the faint smell of sewage and motor oil and mud, and when the wind blew in from the east you could smell the ocean, dead seaweed and open seashell and wet sand . . .

The Dubus family moved around quite a bit in a scrappy sort of way. A philandering alcoholic who abandoned the family when Dubus was 10, Dubus’ father taught at a small community college and married several times. Although he only lived a few towns away, the infrequency and the nature of his relationship with his children added distance. As his mom worked in Boston, there tended to be much delinquency, drugs and parties. Due to the wild appearance of their house, a neighbor once remarked to another her surprise that mom Patricia, the struggling caregiver, sounded educated. Dubus has two sisters, Suzanne and Nicole, and a brother, Jeb. Dubus may not have had parental guidance as often as he desired but he certainly had an enviable connection with his siblings. They confide in each other and protect each other.

Food was scarce now. Even with our father’s child support payments, only a few hundred a month, my mother just didn’t make enough to keep the fridge and cabinets stocked. It was hard enough keeping the rent paid on time, the electricity on, the phone. .

Growing up in drug-addled, poverty-stricken neighborhoods, early on, Dubus decided that he needed to become physically intimidating and a competent fighter. The major catalyst is when he witnesses his brother Jeb getting severely beaten. Dubus starts lifting in his basement and later learns to box. He spends hours training—doing hundreds of sit-ups and pushups, bench-pressing. Fighting becomes one of his few satisfactory outlets for his pent-up anger and frustration. When Dubus fights, he cannot stop. He looks for fights. He craves the crunch of cartilage against bone, the taste of blood in his mouth and the satisfaction when a hook connects to knock someone down.

I kept seeing his face as I punched it. I still couldn’t remember feeling the impact of the right cross, just the sight of him dropping like a switch had been turned off in his brain, the blood gushing from his mouth, the shock in his eyes and how white his cheeks and forehead looked, how I kept swinging and would have hit him every time if the bouncer hadn’t stopped me.

Finally moving away from the area, Dubus majors in Marxist theory at the University of Texas. Drawn to his family, he returns to work with his brother in construction and at a halfway house. Then, instead of attending the Golden Gloves contest, he stays home in his little apartment and writes a story all day long. He’s exhilarated by it and feels as much of an adrenaline rush as if he were boxing. That’s when he decides he must write.

I grew up in middle-class Acton in the 80s and don’t feel a strong connection to my town. My brothers never looked out for me or stood up for me. College and graduate school were always the plan and that of 95% of my high school graduating class. Reading a success story like TOWNIE makes me slightly jealous. Who wants to read a memoir about life in a quaint little town like Acton? Would I want to have grown up in the Merrimack Valley? No. I don’t even venture to Haverhill or parts of Lowell today. I have no desire or need.

Dubus expresses his desires to please and impress his father from competing on the track team (his father an avid runner) to later when he and his father become “drinking buddies” to when Dubus is an adult and finally begins to write. His clear focus is to gain his father’s admiration. The most solid connection to his father develops after his father becomes disabled after a car accident. Perhaps in forgiving the father, a son can become stronger. Throughout TOWNIE, Dubus never sugarcoats their relationship but bluntly describes its nadirs and zeniths.

TOWNIE captures the darkness of violence and its impetus for Dubus’ later writing career. It fuels his desire to both protect himself and his family and to escape. As he struggles for identity and happiness, he finds the ultimate solution in writing. Whatever type of childhood you have, you’ll relate to aspects of this gritty, heartfelt memoir.

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