Thursday, August 11, 2011

To Andre Dubus: Happy Birthday. And Thanks...

Today is the late Andre Dubus' birthday. I acknowledge this because Dubus was the first author whose short fiction I read, and loved, and felt I understood. I'd read short stories before his. In fact, let me take you back to 2004. Creative Writing (Fiction) class with Prof. Steve Lattimore. I'm a 32 year old writing major. I love to write, I love to read, but I am just now learning to study a work of fiction, to think about it, to take it apart and piece it back together.

Ours was a small class; about 10 students sitting around a big table, in a 2nd floor classroom in an old, white house that had been converted to house the English Department. Each class, we'd assemble to discuss the previous week's assigned story. And each week, I sat quietly, listening to my peers (many of whom were 10 years younger than I was) dissect and discuss the story. How are they getting that out of this story? I would think to myself. I either liked it or I didn't. It either held my attention or brought on a case of ADD whereby I'd have to reread full paragraphs.

But several weeks into the class, Lattimore assigned "The Fat Girl."

I got it. Finally. Not because I could relate to the main character (those of you who know me will laugh at that thought), but because Dubus had a gift. He created characters who were neither all good, nor all bad. His protagonists were regular people with regular problems, real emotions. They screwed up, they made mistakes, but they each had a fair shot at redemption. Dubus made us like them even more for their humanity.

After Dubus, Prof. Lattimore fed us Raymond Carver ("Cathedral), Tim O'Brien ("The Things They Carried) and Graham Greene ("The Quiet American"). Smart man. Really great stuff from truly talented writers.

But I digress, Dubus did so eloquently what I can only hope to do someday. And that is to tell a fantastic story in short form (a very difficult task, I assure you) that makes us feel, think, hope, cringe, gasp, smile...even cry. And most importantly, to remember.

I am grateful to Prof. Lattimore for introducing me to such talent (or am I? These are big shoes for any writer), and grateful to Andre Dubus for helping me, finally, to get it.

1 comment:

  1. OH! I just started The Things They Carried at school yesterday. Now I must get it--quickly--because it's amazing. And happy belated birthday to Andre Dubus. Will put The Fat Girl on my list.