‘Dirty Love’ by Andre Dubus III – No Joy in Mudville

Dirty Love’ by Andre Dubus III  (2013) – 292 pages

958324f888e7982e2c954fc2207eafefThe 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.

5 responses to this post.

  1. This reminds me of a horrible book I read a while ago because it had been shortlisted for something. The characters were all similarly awful, and the dialogue sounds exactly the same. I am only too pleased to be able to say that I can’t remember its name!
    As you say, such stuff may be authentic, but a novel needs more than that. The Glass Canoe by David Ireland (http://wp.me/phTIP-5ye) is a book that’s about pretty awful people with some very confronting aspects, but it transcends that to make some interesting points about Australian culture. I’m sure we can all think of others that have similar intent and so the language etc is necessary, but yes, I agree, mean and cheerless has to have something meaningful to add or I’m not going to bother either.


    • Hi Lisa,
      You are in luck this time, because this is one you won’t have to add to your TBR list. I know Andre Dubus III is held in high esteem in some quarters, but this one was way to cheerless, and the people in the stories didn’t interest me at all. His father, Andre Dubus II, wrote novels also in the ‘dirty realism’ style, but I liked much of his work. I didn’t find his father’s work depressing.
      I expect ‘The Glass Canoe” by David Ireland would be much more interesting since it did win the Miles Franklin Award after all.


  2. Tony, I loved his father’s work, but must admit I hated Andre Dubus III’s House of Sand and Fog and have never had any interest in reading any of his other work. Am so glad I won’t have to try this.

    By the way, what a great review. I really laughed at the first sentence, and appreciate your description of Dubus III’s language and unrealistic realism.


    • Hi Kat,
      Yes, Andres Dubus II was one of the original proponents of ‘Dirty’ or ‘Depressive’ realism, but his stories also had certain charms to them that made them interesting to read. ‘Charm’ seems to be what Andres Dubus III’s stories lack. They seem to want to hit us over the head with how grim and miserable everything is today.


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