Andre Dubus has reached that point in the affection and dependence of his readers that argument is always breaking out over which tale or tales are his best. This is the sign of signs in a writer’s reputation. It means he’s been acknowledged as one of the authentic voices of his generation, a writer to whom readers and critics alike turn to discover how they feel. The four novellas and two stories of The Last Worthless Evening deepen Dubus’s hold on his material, and so are bound to lengthen that frequently debated list of his “best” among his advocates.
The range in this new book is greater than in any previous Dubus collection. The novellas begin in the Navy, where two young officers (one white, one black) discover each other on the changing terrain of residual racism; offer shrewd homage to the detective story in Dubus’s patented territory northwest of Boston; move on to the life of a suburban girl coming beautifully of age as her mother doesn’t; and finish with a magnificent defense of her life and children by a woman who refuses defeat at the hands of her brutal and pathetic husband. The stories tell about a Hispanic shortstop lost among the gringos on a major-league team, and show what happens to an eleven-year-old kid when he meets up with a broken, angry, and decidedly dangerous Vietnam vet who takes him into a local bar for a treat.
“Rose,” by itself, is worth the price of the book; it is the most powerful entry in Dubus’s impressive canon.