Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...
A LITERARY RESURRECTION
FOR YEARS AFTER ANDRE DUBUS LOST THE USE OF BOTH his legs in an accident, writing fiction—his lifelong calling—was beyond him. "I don't know what stopped me," says Dubus, 59, who took to writing essays about his newly circumscribed life instead. "Then I was working on a story, and I broke the man's legs—had a horse fall on him. The story started moving."
That piece, "The Colonel's Wife," became part of Dancing After Hours, Dubus's new collection—his first in nearly 10 years and the most acclaimed of his nine books. Though writing about a "cripple" (his word) led to his breakthrough, most of his characters are what he calls bipeds. "There are only two wheelchaired dudes in this book," he says. "And," he adds with a laugh, "I think one's going to get out."
That his sense of humor has survived the last decade is something of a miracle. On July 23,1986, as he was driving near his home in Haverhill, Mass., Dubus noticed "a car ahead of me, disabled. Strange word," he says. As he stood with the driver and a passenger after pulling over to help, he was hit by another car. The passenger was killed; Dubus's legs were shattered.
His left leg was amputated above the knee, and Dubus spent three years in agonizing physical therapy—"harder than anything I did in the Marine Corps"—before accepting his wheelchair. His third marriage broke up; his wife and their two daughters, the youngest of his six children, live nearby. Friends, other family members and prayer got him through. And keep him going. "If I can get to mass in the morning, I usually got the gloominess knocked," says Dubus, who tends to his own needs, including driving—though he avoids a certain stretch of highway.
He has also found compensations in his loss. "Some of my characters now feel more grateful about simple things—breathing, buying groceries, sunlight," he says, "because I do."