Dirty Love – Recommended Reading

Andre Dubus III
W.W. Norton
HC 292 pp., $27.50

Dirty LoveThis is the best book I’ve read, so far, in 2014.  The first and last stories are masterpieces tapping seething reservoirs of anger and shame, so rarely portrayed, and  in  language that makes you want to turn away.  There may be the occasional flash of irony, but generally Dubus’ stories in this collection confront us with how hard it is to be good, not for the lack of trying, but for want, for our desire for gratification, acceptance and approval.

The easiest gloss of these stories is that sex makes love dirty, and Dubus presents the case with an unflinching gaze.  Love Hurts,  sing the Everley’s, Roy Orbison, Nazareth,  but rarely are the bruises and scars shown so tenderly, in prose so vivid, you have to put the book down.

The first story, “Listen carefully as our options have changed”  is an ominous tale of Mark, a cuckold who watches his wife on the video he has received from a private investigator illustrating his wife’s affair with the bald headed Frank Harrison, Jr. Running partners, sweaty bits, zippers, tongues, mouths and the inevitable conjoining he watches “on the Sony flat-screen in the living room of the main house, his heart kicking like a hanged man’s feet.”  He picks up a heavy metal pipe, and goes to see for himself.

“Dirty Love,” The last story explores the territory now inhabited by the young and their phones, which also shoot video.  A girl, Devon, is persuaded to give up her mouth virginity and eventually someone shares a sex video of her on the internet which her father sees. The double standards of her father with his stack of porno magazines on the toilet tank even as she was growing up, echoed in the boys taunts she tries to please.

She manages to find sanctuary with her uncle Francis, hiding her shame until her drunken father confronts his brother and forces Francis to watch the video, who cannot shake the image of her “concave cheeks.”

When Devon discovers what has happened she leaves a note that anyone who has ever been abused or taken advantage of (coerced) knows recognizes instantly “Dear Uncle Francis, Thank you for being so good to me. I don’t deserve it. Maybe I never did. LOVE, Devy.  Responsibility, shame, I don’t deserve love.

What she remembers as she leaves is the face of Sick, friend and someone she loved who deserted her when the video surfaced but who  earlier “looked at her as she let him in, the only one. His hair hung down and his lips were parted as he moved inside her, his eyes seemed to shine with a sweet sadness, the kind that only comes when you know something good  can never, ever last. But you keep going anyway. All you can do us keep going and never quit.”

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