Novelist Dubus now looks homeward after gritty memoir
By Randall Mikkelsen
NEWBURY Mass. (Reuters) - Andre Dubus III put his faded hometown of Haverhill, Massachusetts, on the map of modern literature with his gritty memoir, “Townie.”
But Dubus' native New England did not find a setting in his fiction until he published a collection of novellas, “Dirty Love,” which depicts small-city and shore-town residents in messy quests for human relationships.
Dubus’ novels include “House of Sand and Fog,” which was made into an Oscar-nominated movie. He is also the son of writer Andre Dubus II, whose troubled family life was a major element of "Townie."
He spoke to Reuters in a house he built by hand about the role of landscape in his writing, his aversion to the wired life, and the characters that define his work.
Q: How has setting stories closer to home influenced your work?
A: It felt good to try to capture people from this region. I grew up along the Merrimack River in these abandoned mill towns. It was only when writing “Townie” that I wrote directly about this place for the first time, and that kind of freed me up to fictionalize it.
A place has rhythms, a flow like a river. There is a depth of authority a writer has when writing about a place they know well. The same is true when your write about the kinds of people that you know well. But when it comes to place, I think you can write your way to the bottom of your knowledge. Exploring never ends when it comes to character.
I think about my father's work. (John) Updike called him “the bard of Merrimack Valley,” and I remember thinking, no, he's not. He sets his stories here, but he doesn't write about people here. My old man’s voice was (his native) Louisiana. Continued...