Andre Dubus' (III) new book, Such Kindness
I really enjoyed Andre Dubus' new book, Such Kindness. I've always loved his gritty style of writing and the writing in this book, about a down-and-out disabled builder, is especially that. Dubus' character development is excellent; despite all their flaws, you really like and root for most of his characters. After a roofing accident, Tom Lowe, a former builder, is living in subsidized housing in Amesbury, Massachusetts. He's in substantial pain and medicating with the vodka he struggles to afford with his disability check (food is cobbled up with funds from his EBT card or trips to the food pantry). Cans of lima beans and creamed corn for dinner figure heavily in the story! Unfortunately for him, the package store is too available, right across the street from his subsidized housing. But, the owner is kind and plays classical music in the store.
Often in a stupor, his drinking is a substitute for the Opioid addiction he's coming off of, which caused his life to unravel. His wife left him for another man who could better take care of her and her young son (with Tom), Drew, who will be 20 years old in a couple of days. Tom is more than bitter about the banker who gave him a subprime mortgage which was subsequently foreclosed upon. The beginning of the book is interesting, Tom and his neighbor, Trina and a friend, Jamey are attempting a garbage heist at his former banker's opulent house in the leafy suburbs, equipped with motion-sensor lights that could at any moment reveal the down-and-out former client stealing from the large trash bins on the property. In the cloak of darkness, Tom peers into the well-lit windows and imagines the family and all their "abundance." At this moment, it becomes a story of sinking to the lowest of depths, economic disparity (abundance versus scarcity) between the banker, Tom's wife and Tom himself, and also others. His bitterness gradually turns to quiet contemplation (except for the feisty neighbor, Trina, her boyfriends, and her young family, the story now becomes slow and contemplative but picks up at the end for a mad dash for Tom to reach his son who is in a hospital about 100 miles away, while his father is car-less. Tom walked a large part of the way). It's about a father's love for his son, an ex-husband's regrets, and addiction. It's also about the gratitude one can feel after helping others and the practicality and reward that comes from using kindness as a way of life; getting some of that back from others; the acceptance of what is; the consequences of disobeying the law; and the healing impact of loving your family and friends, no matter how similar or different any of them are.
Dubus is especially adept at writing about underserved people living along the North Shore of Massachusetts. This theme is familiar in one of his previous novels, Townie. The writing in Such Kindness is still descriptive, but less so than in Townie. The dialogue in Such Kindness is both honest and direct, and pitch perfect! I highly recommend this sad but sweet, redemptive story (I chose the stock photo above for the author's descriptions of Tom Lowe's memories of his young son in the beloved house he built on a marsh when he was well, successful, confident and flush, which became an albatross around his neck); the publisher is W. W. Norton & Company (publication date: June 6, 2023).