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May 2015

Living In One’s Head Leaves Little Spare Time

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“I have often imagined him returning home a week early that summer, to a mother, to a father; and having to watch his father’s face as the boy told him he failed because he was weak. A trifling incident in a whole lifetime, you may say. Not true. It could have changed him forever, his life with other men, with women, with daughters, and especially sons. We like to believe that in this last quarter of the century, we know and are untouched by everything; yet it takes only a very small jolt, at the right time, to knock us off balance for the rest of our lives.”

After reading this collection of short stories you can really see where the author’s interest lay outside of the complexities that is the human condition and relationships. Besides speaking of common domestic situations, with common everyday people, from your common run-of-the-mill cities, Mr. Dubus has some common threads throughout the course of the book. Where familiarity is found is in the way the author intertwines common themes of religion, family, indulgence, and love. Or more specifically Catholicism, quaaludes, cigarettes, alcohol and sex. He also has an ability to channel the internal voices of the character as they struggle with various principles, conflicts of interest or external circumstances and use detail, tone, and action to contradict a lot of what they inherently feel. For the most part his characters don’t command much sympathy, but where he achieves it is in the subtleties, by alerting the reader that there are some redeemable qualities deep down inside. As a reader I find myself, more often than not, able to put a face to the various characters I come across when reading. This is a direct reflection on the talents of the writer and a little credit to one’s own imagination. With these stories that pleasure was not alloted to me and was not the fault of the author.

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“She accused him of having a double standard and he said no; no, she was as free as she was before she met him. She asked him how long he had felt this way, had he always been like this or was it just some French bullshit he had picked up this winter. He had always felt this way. By now she could not weep. Nor rage either. All she could feel and say was: Why didn’t I ever know any of this? You never asked, he said.”

Loneliness is one of the central feelings from this collection. In the opening story Miranda Over the Valley the tone is set when she leaves California for school in Boston. Slowly losing touch with herself, life events have made her realize she needs love wherever she gets it to fill the void. In The Winter Father a three-day-a-week-father and recent divorcee learns to combat his loneliness while struggling to be an attentive father in the dead of winter. The winter eases his struggle to adapt to his new life while the summer will remain his true proving ground. In Killings small pleasures no longer garner the same reaction when you have vengeance on your mind. The justice system has failed you and there is no escape in your own city. You keep telling yourself that you thought the tough part of parenthood was over, now your trying to figure out the lesser of two evils between living through painful daily reminders or occasional grievances. The author calmly delivers this story of passion and violence. Reminiscent of Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. The Pretty Girl is a tale of obsession. A woman who is too pretty to have girlfriends spends her time alone. A perfect victim for the mentally unstable. Three different narratives with heavy insight. An odd understanding for an overwhelmingly unsympathetic character.

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“Her eyes are filling. Besides Steve, Vinnie is the only person outside her family she has told about the rape, but his eyes did not change when she said it; could not change, she knows, for the sorrow in them is so deep. She has known him in passion and mirth, and kissing his forehead, his unbridled left cheek, his chin, she feels as dangerous as Ray, more dangerous with her slender body and pretty face.”

If They Know Yvonne may irk some female readers as a pure at heart, just say no to masturbation, churchgoing young man is corrupted by a young vixen who opens his eyes to needful things. Story of guilt, yielding to vices, and living in conflict with down home southern values. In Rose the author details how evil is not reserved for the poor, it doesn’t discriminate. The elderly can see the innocence in others in spite of how life has left them out in the cold. With no trust in your decision-making, self-loathing can lead to begrudgingly accepting a need for true love. In Anna a woman at odds with her place in life uses alcohol and sex as a distraction to her problems and to kill the pain. It’s good to know you have something, but sometimes you want more, and sometimes more is not enough. Voices From the Moon is a family story where each member has a cross to bear. Why is it that you always hurt the ones you love the most? Story of love and all of its power, pain, and glory. Remember that you don’t choose the ones you love, love chooses you. The Curse proves that it is sometimes better to be safe than sorry. Adultery shows that in some bizarre cases infidelity can bring your significant other closer to the person you hoped and imagined they would be, but you still can’t help but feel a little sinful. A Father’s Story restores the debate in the morality of the early riser and the night owl. Where the coffee drinking, opera aficionado, god fearing man is the same whiskey swilling, rock and roll listening, clergy-reasoning person that looks for justification when the situation arises. He may not be misplaced, but he may be misguided.

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The author writes these stories not with an image in mind, but a feeling to be communicated. Many times I found myself relating to these characters finding bits of me as I progressed from story to story. Whether it was Louise’s internal conflicts with a mandatory element of day-to-day life, or Joan’s realization that disappointment can be manufactured by one’s own unrealistic expectations, or Gerry’s slow boil as he continuously witnesses regionally-accepted behaviors promoting discrimination and abuse of “power” to the disenfranchised. Visualization will be absent, but identification among this breadth of characters will be present as you progress through the pages. I enjoyed the majority of these stories and if you don’t mind stories that have conclusions with loose ends, then you will too.

” ‘You know why I like my waitress friends so much? And what I learned from them? They don’t have delusions. So when I’m alone at night – and I love it, Larry – I look out my window, and it comes to me: we don’t have to live great lives, we just have to understand and survive the ones we’ve got. You’re smiling again’        

 ‘Tears too.’    

 ‘Wipe them fast before my friends think something terrible is happening.’ “

 

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