Novelist Dubus now looks homeward after gritty memoir

Thu Oct 16, 2014 1:10pm EDT
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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...

Author Andres Dubus III is pictured in Newbury, Massachusetts July 16, 2014.   REUTERS/Randall Mikkelsen