Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"Gone So Long" by Andre Dubus III - A Great Writer At The Top of His Game

It was well worth the wait for Andre Dubus III to produce his latest novel, "Gone So Long." As a novelist, Dubus was gone far too long, but he is back and in top form. I have followed his work closely since reading "The House of Sand and Fog," What I have always appreciated about Dubus' writing is the indelible and memorable characters he creates, and the strong sense of place. In the case of "Gone So Long," the two places are the North Shore of Boston, specifically Salisbury Beach and Newburyport. Subsequent action takes place around the rural Tampa Bay area.

The three main characters include Daniel Ahearn, an ex-con who has finally finished his parole many years after killing his wife, Linda, in a fit of jealous rage. The murder took place in front of his three year-old daughter, Susan. Susan was raised by her maternal grandmother, Lois. The grandmother's mission in life was to shield Susan from any contact with her father.

Daniel senses that he is nearing the end of his life, with his prostate cancer accelerating. So he does research, and finds that his estranged daughter Susan is living in Florida, teaching English, and struggling to find the courage to publish her writing. He decides to head south and try to make amends with his daughter after an absence of almost 30 years. He has no idea if she will agree to see him.

The development of the characters in this novel is brilliant. The end result is that even Daniel, a murderer, becomes a sympathetic figure. Ugly - hooked-nosed with eyes set too close together - he struggles to find answers to why he allowed himself to become consumed with rage and jealousy of his beloved Linda. We see Susan grappling with a complex relationship with the over-controlling Lois. She also is not sure how to learn to really love her husband, after she had spent her adolescence and early adulthood in a series of meaningless and promiscuous relationships. As the action progresses, the individual threads begin to weave themselves together, toward a denouement that is not entirely predictable. Themes of forgiveness, identity, jealousy, creativity, ambivalence, obsession, and brokenness are explored as the story unwinds.

I mentioned the writer's strong sense of place. Daniel was able to attract Linda in their youth because his sonorous voice allowed him to be hired as the DJ on the iconic Himalaya ride at Salisbury Beach. Beginning with their high school years, both my sister and brother worked at Shaheen's Fun Park in the late 1960s and early 1970s. so, I was intimately familiar with the Beach. Dubus perfectly captures the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the kitschy Salisbury Beach ethos. A could almost taste the friend dough, and hear the screams from the Himalaya riders.

It is hard to imagine a more engaging and thought-provoking novel. If you appreciate great writing and story telling, this book is a must read.



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