Like Father, Like Son
Andre Dubus III is an American writer of fiction and memoir. His 1999 novel House of Sand and Fog lounged for 20 weeks on The New York Times’s Bestseller List in 2000 and 2001 and became a feature film in 2003. His 2008, based-on-real-events novel The Garden of Last Days explores the final days of one of the 9/11 terrorists, who chose to spend them indulging in the sins of the West. His 2012 memoir Townie is a profound meditation on the nature of violence. Born in 1959, Dubus obtained his bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Texas. Before succeeding as a writer, he worked odd jobs as a carpenter, bounty hunter, and bartender.
Question: Do you remember liking the stories your father wrote?
Andre Dubus III: Well, like a lot of people, like a lot of kids, I didn't know what my dad did. Or I vaguely knew that he wrote stories but I didn't think about it. I was probably-- I was 15 the first time I read anything of his and it was his first book and his only novel, The Lieutenant, and I really loved it, and I couldn't believe my father wrote something that good, because, you know, he's just "that guy." And then the first short story I read of his, I was probably 18, and it was the story, "Killings," which was ultimately adapted into the film "In the Bedroom," and I couldn’t believe the power of that story. And so, yeah, I loved his work. I still love his work. He's one of my favorite writers. I think he's a really honest, passionate, compassionate writer. I don't-- Catholicism is always, that's foreign to me. You know, I don't practice a particular faith and that's all. But I love his work. I think he was an artist.
Question: He knew Kurt Vonnegut?
Andre Dubus III: Yeah, Vonnegut actually-- when my father left the Marines, moved to-- went to the Iowa Writers Workshop in the sixties, some of my earliest memories were our grandmother bought us a TV and this guy Kurt would come down every day at three o'clock and watch Batman, and he'd chain smoke and had curly hair and he'd look down at me and I'd look up at him and he's say, "I like the Riddler, who's your favorite character?" and he'd smoke, and I'd say, "I like False Face." "Yeah, Kapow, Kazowi." And it was Kurt Vonnegut. I had no idea. Years later, "I watched Batman with Kurt Vonnegut?" Yes, you did. I wouldn't say-- well, I would say my father's life was tumultuous in that he was what sociologists would call a serial monogamist, you know, he was married three times, divorced three times and I think if he'd lived, he'd have been married again. He and I talked about some of this later in his life, and I know that with each marriage, he meant to stay married, it just wasn't in the cards for him. So the tumultuous part was really just the homefront, you know, the nest. It was never quite stable for him.
Question: Do you see his writing in yours?
Andre Dubus III: I really-- do I see any of his writing in mine? Not really. Well, only in that we both, you know, he wrote really deep, lovely character-driven fiction, I try to write character-driven fiction. But I think we have such a different vision of the world, and I think his sentences were actually more lyrical and beautiful. He was a real stylist, and he's from the South. That's a distinction, he's a Southern writer, at least in voice, I think, and in cadence. He's got a lot of Faulkner and St. James Bible in him, I think. And I'm from New England, it's a whole different vibe. No, I don't think so. I think if we didn't have the same name, no one would ever think of us two together. But I might be wrong. I'm just the writer of one of these things, so I might be wrong about that.
Question: Is there a difference between Northern and Southern fiction writing?
Andre Dubus III: I read a lot of Southern fiction. And I think what I love about it is what I love about-- all my relatives were from Louisiana, my mother and father, every grandparent, aunt, uncle and cousin, everybody's from Louisiana and Texas, too. So I feel sort of a soulful connection to that region, although I'm an East Coast kid. You know, I'm a mill town kid from north of Boston. I think that there's a certain lyricism in Southern writing that is not in Northern writing. I'm making broad generalizations here, but there's a certain lyrical quality, that I think might come from the St. James Bible in some ways. It comes from-- I don't know. it's frankly a mystery, but what I love-- and there's also a deep, sensual quality to a lot of-- you know, in so much Southern writing, everybody's got a body, you know, there's bourbon and crawfish and hot sun on your face and the squeal of a car over gravel. I'm a sucker for all that. I love all that. And I'm making broad generalizations, but one could argue that a lot of writing from the North tends to be a little bit more cerebral and urban, fast-clipped, more of an interior sort of life. A little edgier. And I like both. I mean, both are delicious, really. And I don't know, man, I haven't really thought about this with me, I may kind of fall somewhere in-between. I don't know. I think they're equally powerful. I don't believe Southern fiction is superior to Northern fiction, at all. And I'm not even comfortable with these broad generalizations, because there are so many exceptions. But there are some broad truths there, I think.
Author Andre Dubus grew up in the shadow of writers, from his famous father to Kurt Vonnegut.
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