CBR-V Review #60: Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III

I’m going to preface this review by saying that I have a huge crush on Andre Dubus III–I’ve met him before and he’s just awesome, and he’s an incredible writer. I tore through House of Sand and Fog and The Garden of Last Days and adored them, and I was really excited to hear that he had a new book coming out because I just love his work. I actually had no sense of what this was about before I read it–I just knew I wanted to read it because it was by him!

Dirty Love is actually a collection of three short stories and a novella, all of them loosely connected by their characters, who share passing relationships with one another. All of them, as the title would suggest, deal with love and sex in our modern world–a world of pain, darkness, and loss. Love (of all kinds–of others, of oneself) isn’t simple, and that seems to be the overall message of the book: it’s messy. We meet a man struggling to come to terms with his wife’s affair, a woman facing the prospect of being alone forever, a bartender struggling with his constant urges to cheat on his pregnant wife, and a teenager dealing with the consequences of a hook-up gone wrong.

As is typical of Dubus, all of these characters are stunningly portrayed and incredibly complex (and, more often than not, not particularly likable). I felt like in the first three stories, he was really able to get into their heads, express thoughts and beliefs and perspectives that are most certainly not his own. It’s a tremendous talent, and his ability to characterize so well is one of the reasons I fell in love with his writing. The fourth story/novella was more of a disappointment–it felt too try-hard. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a male author to accurately capture the voice of a teenaged girl (it’s not super common, though. Off the top of my head, only She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb comes to mind, although I’m sure there are others). Dubus himself has done a great job with female characters, even in this very collection (with the second story). But the fourth piece of the book fell totally flat for me, and I didn’t buy his main character at all. It seemed like he was trying to incorporate too much “teen-speak” and sound hip and that really bothered me. It just wasn’t authentic, which is so unusual for him–typically, his work is all about the authentic human experience, giving voice to stories that don’t get told.

Maybe its because his work is so character-based that I felt like short stories weren’t necessarily the best platform for his talent. I don’t know–I was definitely intrigued by most of the stories but I wasn’t as engaged as I should have been. I felt like he couldn’t necessarily go as in-depth as possible, and there wasn’t really any momentum in any of the stories (except maybe the second one). I actually had a hard time getting through this book; I kept putting it down and picking it back up. Which, given how fast I’ve read his other work, isn’t a great sign.

I don’t know. Overall, I’m just lukewarm on the book. I still love Dubus, but I’m going to hold out for his next novel and hope it meets his old standards.

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