Andre Dubus III is the author of three New York Times bestsellers. House of Sand and Fog was a #1 New York Times bestseller, a fiction finalist for the National Book Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, was an Oprah Book Club Selection, and was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated motion picture. The Garden of Last Days is soon to be a major motion picture. His memoir, Townie, was a #4 New York Times bestseller and a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Dirty Love was chosen as a Notable Book and Editors’ Choice from the New York Times and a Notable Fiction from The Washington Post. Dubus has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Pushcart Prizes, and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award. His books are published in over 25 languages.
The Connecticut River sounded different every season; it was a gushing stone roller during the spring runoffs, a narrow and quiet flow in the summer that in the fall receded to a thin clear wash leaving banks of leaf-covered mud and sunken tree root until winter, when the Berkshire snows came, and the ice formed over the rocks, and the water gurgled beneath it all as though behind a mask.
On its west bank, halfway through the trees up Saunders Hill, Jim Suther picked the guitar most every night. Though he was a white man he only sang blues songs, songs by men like Big Bill Broonzy, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, and Champion Jack Dupree. After a supper he would cook for both himself and his seventeen-year-old son, Leo, Jim sat in the parlor on a stool in front of the window overlooking the woods and he’d start to play. He sang all kinds of songs, some fast that Leo could hear in the kitchen while he was cleaning up or doing his homework and he would tap his feet, or else slow ones like “Lonesome Road,” “Up, Sometimes Down,” and “Motherless Child.” Most times they were slow like that, and Leo would sit in the parlor and listen for a while.
He liked to watch his father’s face. That was easy to do because most times Jim kept his eyes closed while he picked and sang. Leo liked how soft it got around the mouth under his mustache, how tender-looking. And Jim was a big man. Not tall and lean like Leo, but wide with thick legs, rounded shoulders, and upper arms that always needed more room than his shirtsleeves gave them.
Wednesday nights, four or five men from Jim’s union at Heywood Paper Products would drive up in their Ramblers and station wagons to play poker at the kitchen table and drink cold Narragansetts out of cans. Leo was already taller than some of the men and they rarely talked to him like he was a junior at Heywood High School, graduating class of 1968.
One man, Lars, who was bald and had a clean-shaven pink face, he was always telling jokes about men screwing women who weren’t their wives. Sometimes he’d tease a punch as Leo passed the table on his wayto the fridge and he’d say: “Hey Einstein, tell your pop to play some white music for a change.” Leo would smile and raise his Coke in a mock toast, then go out to the parlor where Jim was bluesing it with Leo’s Uncle Ryder. That’s what he liked Leo to call him, though he wasn’t really his uncle. One night Lars said to Ryder: “You’re so skinny I can smell the shit in you, Stillwell.” And Ryder was skinny. He also favored his left leg a little bit when he walked, and every day he wore his fake lizard-skin cowboy boots, even to the mill. But Wednesday nights he played the most wonderful instrument Leo could imagine on this earth: a German-made, M. Hohner Marine Band harmonica; The Harp of the Blues, Ryder called it.
From “Dirty Love”
She’d done it herself without asking her mother for any help. She’d felt grown-up and a little scared but strong and ready for whatever would come next. But this magazine of her father’s made her feel young and stupid, ugly even, and Devon closed it and put it back on the stack. And was it later in the kitchen, dipping the eggplant slices into the milk and raw egg, then the bread crumbs, that she began to wonder about her mother? Her heavy, beautiful mother who smiled at everyone and treated them as if they were special and deserved kindness just because they were alive? Was it then, the first time Devon had helped her to bake eggplant parmigiana, that she began to feel sorry for her own mother?
“Sixteen minutes, Devy,” Uncle Francis calls this out from the living room. Devon stares down at the notebook. She reads what she’s written, ending with my first tampon. She crosses out the small t and makes it a big one. Then she crosses out the whole paragraph because this is bullshit. All of it. The reason why she hates school in the first place. Everything so fucking fake. She can’t write about her vagina or her father’s magazines. They want her to write about making eggplant parmigiana with her mother so it shows how close they are; they want Devon to write that this is a precious memory for her, one that has helped her to become “the confident person I am today,” and she needs to do all this in five paragraphs, her conclusion a neat echo of her introduction, which she does not have. They want her to type it up with no misspellings, all the rules obeyed, every mark of punctuation right where it should be, then they want her to solve math problems and science problems; they want her to memorize important dates from history and be able to point to any country and its capital on a map, all of this and more so that she can what? Pretend she walked up onstage in a borrowed gown with a bunch of fucking drunks and hypocrites like Trina? Get a framed piece of paper with her name on it so she can look forward to another four years of sitting in more classrooms on some campus somewhere, memorizing and writing and reading just so she can get another piece of paper with her name on it? And then what? Get some job sitting at a desk in some office in some building in some city where they’ll pay her money just so she can use it to have a house of her own on a quiet street like Haven Court with a green lawn her husband will cut on the weekends when he’s not sitting in the pool drinking a vodka tonic, thumbing through his iEverything for a half-naked picture of his girlfriend?
I found out about my father’s girlfriend because I used his phone.
From House of Sand and Fog
The fat one, the radish Torez, he calls me camel because I am Persian and because I can bear this August sun longer than the Chinese and the Panamanians and even the little Vietnamese Tran. He works very quickly without rest, but when Torez stops the orange highway truck in front of the crew, Tran hurries for his paper cup of water with the rest of them. This heat is no good for work. All morning we have walked this highway between Sausalito and the Golden Gate Park. We carry our small trash harpoons and we drag our burlap bags and we are dressed in vests the same color as the highway truck. Some of the Panamanians remove their shirts and leave them hanging from their back pockets like oil rags, but Torez says something to them in their mother language and he makes them wear the vests over their bare backs. We are upon a small hill. Between the trees I can see out over Sausalito to the bay where there are clouds so thick I cannot see the other side where I live with my family in Berkeley, my wife and son. But here there is no fog, only sun on your head and back, and the smell of everything under the nose: the dry grass and dirt; the cigarette smoke of the Chinese; the hot metal and exhaust of the passing automobiles. I am sweating under my shirt and vest. I have fifty-six years and no hair. I must buy a hat.