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Christina Bieber

Living Like a Man

Andre Dubus and the lessons of brokenness.

In July of 1986, Andre Dubus stopped to help a motorist on the side of a Massachusetts highway and was himself struck by a passing car, costing him one leg and the use of the other. To anyone familiar with his fiction, the accident was uncanny. Dubus (pronounced dub-yoose), a Catholic writer from the South, had made a career from telling stories in which characters experience various accidents that force a self-reckoning. He could have scripted this one himself. But Dubus was not like his characters—men and women who have grown spiritually numb and are in desperate need of a wake-up call. Dubus was already wide awake and attuned to the spiritual significance of the physical world. He had, in a sense, already thought through the implications of such a life-changing accident—he did not need it to actually happen to him.

But it did happen. And it changed him—in ways he could not have predicted. While Dubus had always made his characters face challenges, provoking them from passivity to activity in order to achieve redemption, the challenge posed by his crippling accident led him in nearly the opposite direction. The strong and vital man who had always defined himself by action learned in a much deeper way the action of receiving.

Dubus has been described both as a man's man and a writer's writer. A kind of Catholic Hemingway, he wrote muscular prose that is "lathed to perfection," as one critic observed; in his stories, meaning is fused almost imperceptibly to action. Dubus was born in 1936 in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and he went to Catholic school in Lafayette, the heart of Cajun country. In a culture known for aggressive and "manly" men, he experienced a conventional boyhood of hunting, baseball, coming-of-age challenges, and the felt need to prove himself to his father. It was partly to please his father that he entered the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class at Quantico, Virginia, at age 19, and that he later served as a Marine captain. Though he confessed to being too ...

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