The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Books  |  Dance  |  Museum And Gallery  |  Theater

The house that House of Sand and Fog built

Son of a famous-author father, novelist Andre Dubus III had to write his own way out of a violent youth
By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  February 25, 2011

Nina Maclaughlin interviews son of a famous-author father, novelist Andrew Dubus III
A SON’S STORY One wants to resist making comparisons between father and son, but they share in their writing the gift for earning sympathy for the toughest characters  

His pick-up truck was warm.


Andre Dubus III collected me at the Newburyport train station last month when the snow piles were already high. We stopped first for a coffee for the road; he asked all the questions: siblings, hometown, are you married?

We'd be driving around the mill towns along the Merrimack River. Newburyport, Haverhill, Bradford. Two hours on the road in the truck to see the places where he grew up, alleys where he fought with people, the bars and gas stations and bridges that figure in his memoir, Townie, which Norton is publishing this week. (Dubus comes to the Brattle Theatre for a Harvard Book Store event on March 1.)

Newburyport center looks lovely in the snow. A great evergreen in the middle of the square is strung with lights. Small shops, cafés, boutiques, in brick mostly, and non-electric signage line the main drag. A pretty New England epitome.

It wasn't always.

In describing the Newburyport of his youth Dubus is using words like "blighted" and "abandoned." It's hard to picture. As we're rolling through town in his truck, all of it tidy, understated, inviting, it looks as though it hasn't changed since 1850.

"I've got to show you this photograph," Dubus says. It's hanging in the house of a friend of his. He makes a short cellphone call, asks if it'd be okay if we ducked in for a minute. "It's unlocked? Great, great."

"It's right around the corner," he says. "You've got to see it."

He's an enthusiastic talker, touching my elbow as he emphasizes a point.

We climb the steps to an imposing Victorian not far from the center of town and bang the snow off our boots. "Hello!," he shouts out as we enter. "Hello! It's Andre!"

A girl answers from upstairs, the 15-year-old daughter of his friend. "Hi," she yells back. "I'm dying my hair."

"Hi, sweetie, I'm just showing Nina here the Newburyport photograph."

We leave the front hall at the base of the stairs for a parlor and the photograph. It's hung on the wall by the door. An aerial shot taken in 1971 from not too high above the town center we'd just driven through. The town green, where we'd just seen the Christmas tree, is the primary landmark. Otherwise, "blighted" and "abandoned" are exactly right. A war zone — windows with broken glass, empty storefronts, no cars on the road, no people on the sidewalks. No cafés or gift shops. Derelict buildings, crumbling brick.

"That's what I was running from my whole life," Dubus says.

As we're leaving the house and the photograph, the girl comes to the top of the stairs wearing pants and a bikini top, her hair wet with dye. Dubus bounds up the stairs and gives her a fast hug. She's a good friend of his daughter's — or had been. They've been growing apart. She and Dubus are immediately warm and comfortable together, as though he's another member of the family.

1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |   next >
Related: Wesley Stace's sublime puzzle book, The return of Tomi Ungerer, Back to the land, More more >
  Topics: Books , Books, Newburyport, Andre Dubus Iii,  More more >
| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular   Most Viewed 
[ 12/30 ]   Mighty Mighty Bosstones 14th Hometown Throwdown  @ House of Blues
[ 12/30 ]   Peter Pan  @ City Hall Plaza
[ 12/30 ]   Andy Goldsworthy: "Snow"  @ DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   ON CARPENTRY AND COLLEGE  |  October 20, 2011
    Age 30, I quit the Phoenix and ended up with a job as an apprentice to a carpenter. Sawing, chiseling, hammering, nail-gunning, tiling, sanding, slotting, framing, hauling, measuring, and sweeping are less obvious outcomes of an undergraduate career in the liberal arts. College, in strange and unexpected ways, prepared me for this sort of work. And in others, did not prepare me at all.
  •   PHDISASTERS  |  April 27, 2011
    I knew a man pursuing a PhD in literature. His dissertation had to do with humor as a form of dissent in 20th-century literature. And how enthused he was at first! How passionate and excited.
    All I can do is tell you how I read the book.
  •   THE HOUSE THAT HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG BUILT  |  February 25, 2011
    Andre Dubus III collected me at the Newburyport train station last month when the snow piles were already high. We stopped first for a coffee for the road; he asked all the questions: siblings, hometown, are you married?
  •   DON'T BE AN IDIOT  |  January 27, 2011
    We're all idiots when we're 18. We're all idiots for the first half of our 20s, and longer, for some. By saying so, we're not trying to insult anyone.

 See all articles by: NINA MACLAUGHLIN

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed