For two or three years I have used We Don’t Live Here Anymore, a previous collection of Andre Dubus’s novellas, as a short cut to discovering which of my friends have any intrinsic worth as human beings. It says much for Dubus (and for my own impeccable good taste, in both friends and literature) that no-one has yet failed the test.
Why Dubus is not more widely known over here remains something of a mystery. His exclusion from Granta’s two Dirty Realism anthologies seems a little arbitrary, because the majority of his characters live the de rigueur blue-collar lives, even if they live them in New England rather than in, say, Ford’s Montana or Mason’s Kentucky. What is special about Dubus’s characters is that they are allowed a degree of self-perception denied by his more fêted compatriots. Indeed, some of them are allowed rather more self-perception than most real human beings, and this is both a strength and a weakness.
In ‘The Winter Father’, for example, a divorced disc-jockey spends the winter months taking his children from art-gallery to cinema to afternoon jazz-club. It is not until the weather changes that he understands how winter itself dictates the nature of his relationships with them, and
‘why now in summer he and