This is not the Dubus of The House of Sand and Fog, but his father, the one the son writes about so well in his excellent memoir Townie.
This is a tremendous collection of short stories. Though its interior emphasis can sometimes be demanding, Dubus’ eye for detail and exploration of themes (religion, manhood, relationships, etc.) and place (we never leave the neighborhood of the Merrimack River, the location of much of the son’s memoir) make me wonder why he’s not more well-known. Sometimes, it would have been nice to have a bit more dialogue to break up the intensely observational passages, but that’s probably just me being a lazy reader. The dialogue, when it is present, is spartan and necessary.
Dubus knows how to describe people doing things. In “The Captain,” the description of the Captain making eggs is just remarkable. In “Delivering,” (one of my favorite stories) his account of the technique involved in delivering newspapers from a bike is just stunning. Dubus’ meditative passages are equally astounding. Consider the passage about damnation in “Rose” (another favorite, as is “Sorrowful Mysteries”).
In the end, though, these are stories about people, people who have realized that “we don’t have to live great lives, we just have to understand and survive the ones we’ve got” (355).