To be called a 'writer’s writer,' as the late Andre Dubus has been labeled, is at best an ambiguous tribute. It suggests that such an artist produces sentences so subtle and handsomely crafted that only another writer, trained to notice such things, would be able truly to appreciate him or her. Unfortunately, it also hints these qualities will likely result in a relatively small audience, something which David Godine’s reissue of Dubus’s short fiction seeks to remedy by introducing a new generation to his work ... Although Dubus’s stories are filled with disasters—often involving marriages—in the best of his work 'the story seems to have its own uncontainable energy and trajectory' ... A cynical reader, thinking of Dubus’s fiction overall, might be tempted to rewrite it thusly: The times are never so bad but that Dubus can make them worse. But with Hardy in mind remember the line from one of his poems: 'If a way to a Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst.' In such stories...the worst is looked at and a better sometimes painfully imagined through the unflinching voice of Dubus’s art.
He’s often grouped with (and unjustly overshadowed by) contemporaries such as Raymond Carver and Richard Ford, but the comparison is misleading. Though a dedicated story writer skilled in dramatic compression, Dubus was no minimalist. His writing is often quite chatty and descriptive. Laconic disillusion was a hallmark of the era, but Dubus’s stories tend to be crowded and argumentative. He was drawn to large families in turmoil ... these stories are remarkable for the absence of blame. Sin is not an act to be judged in Dubus’s moral universe; it is, rather, a place where we reside, or an element of the atmosphere that we breathe. His characters can seem almost helplessly compelled toward their wrongdoing ... the beauty of the stories is their ability to inspire in the reader the qualities that they practice. Their compassion begets compassion. Their forgiveness begets forgiveness. Absent either resolution or transcendence, their power is in the example of their unflagging love for the fallen world.
There is, for writers and non-writers alike, a sense of discovery in reading Dubus for the first time ... His writing, too, has that most enviable of qualities which only a few authors have achieved, and even fewer have sustained: it is extremely good. Dubus’s only flaw, which is the flaw of many writer’s writers, is that his prose is often too aware of itself as such. The dialogue frequently sounds too much like written dialogue, and the characters behave more like characters in a story than flesh-and-blood people. Still, now and again Dubus produces a sentence that catches the reader unawares in his masterful grip ... The short story never rested in more honest hands than when Dubus wrote it, for he wrote only what he knew, and what he knew was the feeling of a relationship growing colder than the icy wind blowing over the Merrimack River. A sense of the uncanny pervades these portraits of suburban America; Dubus’s work is steeped in the sort of 'darkness on the edge of town' one finds in a Springsteen song or a David Lynch film ... If love is time, then Dubus’s work may one day be discovered by a new generation of readers, who will love his writing as honestly and completely as he loved the craft of writing.