Andre Dubus’s short stories are so wonderfully crafted; so gut-wrenching in scope, that I’ve lost moments of time in the spaces of his words. If you are aware of Andre Dubus, then you know; if not, read at your own risk, for if you are a writer, you may just feel that your pen isn’t quite adequate after you close the book.
I picked up Dubus collection, In the Bedroom, from the Planned Parenthood book sale yesterday. The title seemed familiar, and it was, though I’ve not watched the same titled film, that was inspired by the short story, “The Killing”. Now that I’ve read this short, I am anxious to see how a full length film was produced from less than 20 pages.
Dubus, who passed away in 1999, according to the short bio in the book, was a writer who managed to transport with ordinary prose. He throws in a descriptive sentence here and there, but the bones of the story are matter-of-fact weavings interjected with occasional dialogue. The wording is quite real; it tears at you. The depth so vivid that you sit there wondering…whose story is he really telling?
I closed the book for the second time this afternoon; I’d just finished, “Rose”. The closing of that story, which surprised me with a bit of a philosophical summarization, had me thinking about my mother. Her feet wouldn’t fill Rose’s shoes; but she is of the same generation and upbringing. It was the devout Catholic upbringing that caused me to pause; ascribing to the antiquated teachings of Rome regarding the rhythm method and a woman’s place in the home.
When I spoke to my mother earlier today, I told her about the book coming from the Planned Parenthood sale. Her response threw me, “You know, the Right to Life book sale was this weekend, too.”
I got angry, “Yay, well fuck the Right to Lifers. I mean, how unoriginal, to have to start a book sale to compete with Planned.”
Trust me, I went on to apologize for my outburst, which after 39 years, my parents are used to my quick tongue and anger management issues. I went on to explain what my mother already knew; I’m not a proponent for abortion, but I am for affordable health care and education, which PP offers BESIDES abortions.
“You know, what do all these politicians expect to do with these children that get produced if birth control is not longer easily available. They want to cut a young woman’s ability to protect herself, AND cut the funding to feed/clothe/medicate these children that are a bi-products of such legislation.” My mother, she is really a saint to deal with me after all these years, quietly listened. I could feel her liberal sensitivities agreeing, but her heavy Catholic upbringing quietly countering my statements.
I was still smoldering, not so much toward her, but toward the ‘liberal media’ that helps to propagate this volatile situation, so I threw down the gauntlet to help put a period on my point, “Do you know why I’m also so passionate about this? When I was a little girl, you’d drive me downtown for my weekly allergy shots, we’d pass this brick building on the way and you’d tell me, ‘that is where they kill babies’. Do you know, I’ve never shook that image from my adult mind?”
My mother didn’t recall ever saying this, but she doesn’t doubt it either. It is amazing what stays with us; what memories we hold onto as children into adulthood. It wasn’t until I was older that I saw the sign on the building that read, Planned Parenthood. It would be years later, when I’d discover that they were not really baby killers the way my young mind figured, but a place where women had to make a very difficult decision about life.
Rose had to make a very important decision as well. She left the Catholic church, but in some ways it never left her for she stayed with an abusive man. It wasn’t until he crossed a line beyond sin, where he no longer respected life, that she was able to release herself from that guilt in order to release her family from destruction.
Why do we write stories? Frankly, I’m still working that out in my mind. Poetry comes to me in waves, there is less thought regarding that writing. I worry about writing stories, though; do I have anything important to say? Importance, I realize, is in the eye of the beholder. I also realize many don’t open a fiction book for a “come to Jesus” moment.
I did have a Jesus moment after reading Dubus; and now I’m wondering if I’ve got words worth the ink, digital or old-fashioned liquid. If the story cannot stir the reader to reconsider how they approach their life, or the life of another, is it worthy?
Dubus ripped my heart out twice today, and served it back to me; it already is beating differently. ~