‘Dirty Love’ by Andre Dubus III (2013) – 292 pages
The first novella in the new collection of four novellas by Andre Dubus III, titled ‘Listen Carefully as our Options have Changed’, is written from the viewpoint of a cuckolded husband in his fifties. Fifty is the new forty, and infidelity must be the new fifties entertainment. His wife’s affair begins at the fitness club, and I suppose many affairs begin there for it gives women an opportunity to see men at their most admirable, getting in shape.
The husband here gets a detective to film his wife’s infidelity in graphic detail, and he watches the video over and over. At one point the husband picks up a four-foot length of steal pipe which he plans to use to confront his wife’s lover.
All four of the novellas in ‘Dirty Love’ are about sex, sex at its most hurtful and depressing. Even the one story where the sex isn’t destructive ends in a failed relationship. In all of these novellas the sex is totally joyless and each incidence winds up hurting all the people involved as well as the people close to them. The sex in these novellas is so uniformly dreary, I wondered if Dubus is making some moralistic point, even more puritanical than Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’. I realize that this is supposed to be gritty realism, but the sex here is so mean and hurtful that it does not even feel real. Even the ill-fated Emma Bovary was exhilarated by her infidelities, but there is no joy in ‘Dirty Love’.
This book is so depressing, I wouldn’t even call it realism. I think that most people have their ups and downs during the day in the real world, yet Dubus leaves out any sense of people ever feeling good about anything. All is misery, and that is not real.
Another criticism I have with ‘Dirty Love’ is the dialogue. Everyone, males and females, speaks in real short sentences with frequent use of the word ‘fuck’. I don’t object to ‘fuck’ on moral grounds, but I do object to its use here on aesthetic grounds. It does not convey any real meaning, and it further contributes to the flat, cheerless, mean atmosphere of these novellas. One might argue that this is the way people really talk, and that may be true. However I consider reading this type of dialogue a waste of time. If people don’t have anything meaningful to say, I’d rather they did not talk at all.
Perhaps people will read ‘Dirty Love’ so they can feel good about their own lives as compared to the poor souls stuck in these novellas. That’s about the only reason I can see for reading this book, and it is not enough for me.