Finding a Girl in America

In his third Godine collection, the author of Separate Flights (1975) and Adultery & Other Choices (1977) deepens his hold on our attention. His people, the ones we see every day but hardly know, deliver those recurrent shocks of recognition that are the mark of a seasoned storyteller. His largely coastal New England world more and more feels like a permanent part of the modern literary landscape.

The novella, “Finding a Girl in America,” continues the life of Hank Allison, a central character in Dubus’s earlier long tales, “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Adultery.” Hank is a man haunted by his failures as a husband, his concern for his daughter, and his need for a new marriage that can survive his obsessive writer’s absorption with himself.

Other stories including “Killings,” a swift and wholly successful tale of revenge; “Townies,” about a young man whose affair with an undergraduate girl ends in deadly fury; “At Saint Croix,” the story of a man and woman, both divorced, whose Caribbean spring vacation fails to exorcise his ghosts; “The Pitcher,” where a baseball player can manage his arm but not his wife; and “The Winter Father,” a story of overwhelming tenderness dealing with a divorced father and his weekend attempts to re-establish contact with his two children.

Subtle and haunting, Dubus concentrates his Chekhovian—and utterly American—attention on the residual anguish and momentary elation of deep attachments. Nothing in current American writing seems more genuine than this increasingly celebrated writer’s rueful and chastened fictions.

Dubus is one of the few writers today who can take the top of your head off with a word, a line, a situation.

Andre Dubus was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana to a Cajun-Irish Catholic family. He graduated from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and later moved to Massachusetts, where he taught creative writing at Bradford College. His life was marked with personal tragedies, as are those of his protagonists—ostensibly ordinary men who are drawn to addiction and violence as methods to distract themselves from their woes. Unlike his characters, however, Dubus eventually found success and repute, as well as the corresponding offers from large publishers. He nevertheless remained loyal to Godine until the end of his career.