‘Hit First, Hit Hard’

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Josh Andrus
Andre Dubus III, Haverhill, Massachusetts, 2011

The first four children of the short-story writer Andre Dubus—he had two more, much later, with his third wife—were all born on Marine Corps bases beginning in 1958. Suzanne was the oldest, then Andre III, his brother Jeb, and finally Nicole. Dubus was a Marine Corps officer and rose to the rank of captain. Some of his time was served on the aircraft carrier Ranger in the Far East. After six years of service he resigned his commission in order to become what he had always wanted to be, a writer, and was accepted in the Writers’ Workshop, the celebrated program at the University of Iowa. Kurt Vonnegut was a teacher there at the time, as was Richard Yates.

Life in Iowa City was happy and stimulating. Dubus was a sociable man and so was his wife, Pat. She had been a homecoming queen in Louisiana, where they both were from, and had admired his writing in the local newspaper. After meeting him she broke her engagement to another boy and, following a brief courtship, eloped with Dubus. In Iowa they made friends easily. There was little money but there were frequent parties, drinking, laughing, talking about books and writing. It was a warm, convivial life.

After Iowa, the family moved east where Dubus had a teaching job that paid seven thousand dollars a year. They lived in rural New Hampshire and then on the New Hampshire–Massachusetts line, still giving parties at which friends from the college, poets, creative people, and students, mainly young women, were guests. The happiness began to fade, there were marital fights, and Dubus left home to live with one of the beautiful students.

He was a small man, nice looking, neat in his habits, dedicated to his work, a runner who ran every day after he’d finished writing, and who went to Mass every morning. He liked people, especially women, and made friends easily. He didn’t abandon his children. He gave money to help support them and saw them, all four together, every weekend when he usually took them someplace to eat. Pat and the children had moved to Newburyport at the mouth of the Merrimack River where, as in other towns upriver, commerce had receded, the red-brick mills were empty, stores closed, cars rusting, and life was different than it had been. There, Andre III writes in Townie: A Memoir:

Kids roamed the neighborhood like dogs. The first week I was sitting in the sun on our steps, I made the mistake of watching them go by as they walked up the middle of the street, three or four boys with no shirts, a couple of girls in shorts and halter tops. The tallest one, his short hair so blond it looked white, said, “What’re you lookin’ at, fuck face?”

“Nothing.”

Then he…


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