In this heartbreakingly beautiful book of disillusioned intimacy and persistent yearning, beloved and celebrated author Andre Dubus III explores the bottomless needs and stubborn weaknesses of people seeking gratification in food and sex, work and love.
In these linked novellas in which characters walk out the back door of one story and into the next, love is "dirty"—tangled up with need, power, boredom, ego, fear, and fantasy. On the Massachusetts coast north of Boston, a controlling manager, Mark, discovers his wife's infidelity after twenty-five years of marriage. An overweight young woman, Marla, gains a romantic partner but loses her innocence. A philandering bartender/aspiring poet, Robert, betrays his pregnant wife. And in the stunning title novella, a teenage girl named Devon, fleeing a dirty image of her posted online, seeks respect in the eyes of her widowed great-uncle Francis and of an Iraq vet she’s met surfing the Web.
Slivered by happiness and discontent, aging and death, but also persistent hope and forgiveness, these beautifully wrought narratives express extraordinary tenderness toward human beings, our vulnerable hearts and bodies, our fulfilling and unfulfilling lives alone and with others.
The master of naturalistic New England fiction returns with a book of four loosely connected short works that showcases his Dreisarian abilities at their most trenchant. In the superb Listen Carefully as Our Options Have Changed, Mark Welch is a middle-aged project manager who suspects that his wife is having an affair. How he finds out and what he does about it form the core of this novella, which is affecting for all the ways the author shows how difficult it is to accept that sometimes we know the least about those we think we know best. Credit Dubus for taking a hackneyed premise and making it seem new through the specificity of his observations. One shorter work deals with Marla, an overweight bank teller, and the surprising things she discovers about herself after she falls in love for the first time; another follows Robert Doucette, a bartender-cum-poet who cheats on his pregnant wife in a way that has repercussions for their unborn daughter. In The Scarlet Letter-ish title novella, teenage Devon Brandt, after an Internet indiscretion went viral, goes off to live with her great-uncle Francis, a recent widower and Korean War veteran, and develops an online relationship with Hollis, a 27-year-old Army vet. But will she ever be able to escape her past? Once again, Dubus creates deeply flawed characters and challenges the reader to identify with their common humanity.