3-volume collection by new New England writer Andre Dubus has many Maine connections


Joshua Bodwell discovered André Dubus’ extraordinary prose in his youth, and therein lies a short story.

Twenty years ago, when he was only 23, Joshua Bodwell had a meeting that would change his life.

With a book. Or, more precisely, with a writer.

Two decades later, Bodwell still remembers his introduction – to Andre Dubus, the late novelist – in impressive detail.

It was February 1998, and Bodwell, now executive director of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, had stopped by All’s Well Books, “the one in Wells with the name on the unfortunate pun,” he said. he declares.

He is left to resume the story: “And as I always did when I went there, I checked the staff shelf. There was a staff choice of what ended up being (Dubus’) last book. It was the manager’s choice, this guy Claude. I thought to myself: “I generally like the books Claude chooses. So I picked it up… There were comparisons on the back cover with Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver, and he was referring to (Dubus) as an American Chekov. Ohhh, that ticks a lot of boxes for me! I fell in love with the collection that winter.

The book was “Dancing After Hours”, and a few months later, “by fluke” Bodwell stumbled across the rest of Dubus’ work at a used book store, Harding’s Books, also in Wells. . He bought it all. He still remembers what he paid – $ 6 a piece.

He also remembers exactly where he was and what he was doing (Thanksgiving Day, in the movies), just two years ago, admittedly, when he had the idea to propose to the former editor of Dubus, the Bostonian David R. Godine, that he brought out the collected works of Dubus.

“I had a lot of stuff running through my head,” Bodwell recalls, ticking off the names of several recently rediscovered writers. “All of these real writer writers had their moment. The literary world was enjoying the underestimated.

It is in this category that Bodwell places Dubus. But maybe not for a long time.

Last June, the first two volumes of “Collected Short Stories & Novellas” by Dubus – “We do not live anymore here” and “The Winter Father” – were published. The third volume, “The Cross-Country Runner”, is due out in October. Bodwell is the editor of the series, Godine the editor, and Bodwell has recruited several other notable Mainers to contribute.

“This whole project is to find new readers for him,” Bodwell said. Dubus, he said, is “that incredibly well-kept secret.”

Dubus may not be well known to the general public, but he was admired by many other writers during his lifetime and his works were well received by critics. “Dancing After Hours” was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle award; the non-fiction “Broken Vessels” was a finalist for a Pulitzer; and Dubus himself received a MacArthur “genius” award. Still think you don’t know him? You may be familiar with the 2001 movie “In the Bedroom”, set in Camden and starring Sissy Spacek and Marisa Tomei. It is an account of Dubus’ short story “Meurtres”.

The three-volume project has already received a lot of love. The Parisian review published Mainer Ann Beattie’s introduction to the first volume. The New Yorker published Mainer Richard Russo’s introduction to the second volume. The New York Times included volumes one and two in its New & Noteworthy column: “These two volumes bring together the fiction of André Dubus, one of the most gifted short stories of the 20th century, who, like Raymond Carver, has become a master of form by writing about ordinary men and women, often in difficulty.

Take “Townies”, a story ostensibly about a murdered student. Here is how Dubus briefly describes the professional career of one of his protagonists.

“When the factory closed, he got a job as a truck driver, delivering loaves of fresh bread to families in time for their breakfast. Then people stopped having their bread delivered. It was a change he didn’t understand. He had loved the smell of bread in the morning and the warmth in his hands. He didn’t know why the people he delivered to would choose to buy bread from a supermarket. He didn’t believe that pennies and pennies saved on an expense ever ended up in your pocket. “

Tobias Wolff will present the third volume. (Bodwell called Wolff, Beattie, and Russo his “dream team. I received my writers wish list as a Christmas present.”) An audiobook – ’80s sitcom actor Bronson Pinchot is l ‘one of the many readers – is in the works this fall, and Godine is trying to sell the UK rights. “I think they would love him because he has a grim view of America,” Bodwell said.

Like his characters, Dubus, who grew up a Catholic in Louisiana and spent six years in the Marines, had many of his own struggles. His first book, “The Lieutenant,” published in 1967, was a novel, but after deciding to devote himself to writing short stories, it took him seven refusal-filled years to find another publisher. He married and divorced three times, fathering six children. (One is writer Andre Dubus III, now a friend of Bodwell.) Dubus moved to Haverhill, Massachusetts, where in 1986, returning from Boston one evening, he stopped to help two other motorists. A car struck them, instantly killing one of the motorists and crushing Dubus’ legs. Dubus, who had been a longtime runner, spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, struggling with depression, multiple surgeries and mounting medical bills. For years after the accident, he wrote no fiction; a decade later, his last storybook was published. He died of a heart attack at the age of 62.

Why repost? What does his work have to say to today’s readers?

“Not only is there a great pleasure in reading great fiction that is truly compelling, well-written and compelling, but ultimately it is informative,” said Bodwell. “They are instructive in the human heart. “

Family, faith and morality, violence, complicated relationships between men and women – these are the themes Dubus returns to repeatedly in his stories, many of which take place in working-class Massachusetts towns like Haverhill. In addition to Chekov, Carver, and O’Connor, Dubus has been compared to several other literary giants – Richard Ford, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway.

“The complexity, humanity – that’s why I read it,” Bodwell said. “And compassion. And it’s mixed in there with alcohol, violence and sex.

As the series editor, Bodwell was responsible for choosing titles, overseeing covers, and deciding the size and appearance of the books. Maine photographer Greta Rybus shot and helped conceptualize the covers, each of which has a single vivid image. Volume two features a spilled glass of red wine. The speckled, butter-colored piece of wine-stained linoleum came from Mardens, Bodwell laughed, and cost $ 3.

Bodwell points out that his responsibilities did not include Dubus line editing. “André’s longtime editor (“ William Goodman, a gentleman of the old edition ”) is still alive. He is almost 90 years old. This is the man who fought with Andre over commas, semicolons and the like. And he says he’s always lost.

Typically, editors work with writers. A book or a story is, to some extent, a collaboration. It goes without saying that when the writer is dead, it doesn’t – it can’t – happen.

Dubus has said in several interviews that he always writes with Chekov looking over his shoulder, Bodwell said. “While I was working on it, I had Andre on my shoulder… I kept saying, ‘Does this pass Andre’s test?’ WWAD – What would André do? In the third volume, his absence weighed heavily on me.

Bodwell, a short story writer himself, spent two years on the project. In no case does he regret the time; rambunctious doesn’t begin to capture Bodwell’s enthusiasm for Dubus. “Putting aside my own work to work on these three books has been one of the great honors of my life as a writer. “

Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PGrodinsky

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