"A rich account of the daily torments and triumphs of a human soul . . . [by] one of our most gifted writers." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Sublime . . . . To read these essays is to know what a blessing life can be, and how hard, on legs or on wheels." St. Petersburg Times
"Dubus's prose is lathed to perfection. . . . [His] essays are every bit as dramatic, captivating, and full of mystery as his fiction." The Boston Globe
Dubus is an artist...whose art is at least as tough as the faith that drives him...His honesty and sense of irony are unsparing. --
As strong and honest as an oak. --
Truly a revelation...whether he is writing about being a boy, a Marine, a husband, father, writer, runner, Red Sox fan, man without the use of his legs, or a Christian...Each essay is a magic bullet...Dubus' writings embody maleness in the very best sense of the word...Generous and profound spirituality is the lifeblood of his work. --
The Boston Globe
It's entirely misguided to call Andre Dubus a minimalist, although his chosen form in this book is the short essay, no more than a few pages long, almost always about the ordinary events of his life. Indeed, Dubus, both as an essayist and an author of short stories, is about as maximal as you can get. His subjects are pretty much everything that those of us who came of age after the Kennedys, after Watergate, are too embarrassed to talk about: God, love, art and writing, fatherhood and manhood, the sacredness of the human body and human life. He's a writer's writer, unafraid to take the kinds of chances that can steal your breath away or, if you're feeling uncharitable, seem slightly ridiculous (as when, in "Sacraments," he lists trimming liverwurst for his daughters' sandwiches among the sacraments of his day).
Meditations From a Movable Chair, including its title, is haunted by the accident in 1986 when Dubus, then 49, was struck by a car, costing him one leg and severely damaging the other. He is too honest and brave a writer to pretend that the accident did not change him in fundamental ways (just as his marriages and divorces and the births of his six children have also changed him) or that he did not suffer from self-pity and despair as well as excruciating physical pain while recovering from it. He consistently describes himself as "crippled," and despises the journalistic clichés that are invariably hauled out to discuss the disabled: "To view human suffering as an abstraction, as a statement about how plucky we all are," he writes in "Song of Pity," "is to blow air through brass while the boys and girls march in parade off to war. Seeing the flesh as only a challenge to the spirit is as false as seeing the spirit as only a challenge to the flesh."
There were moments, while I read this book, when I felt alienated from Dubus' full-hearted, masculine sensibility, when it struck me as a little pompous and writerly. I even wondered whether I would actually like him if I met him (even though he loves baseball, opera, Frank Sinatra and Bergman films, all undeniably high on the list of things that make life worth living). His passionate belief in the Catholic church and its rituals -- although it's obviously genuine and he writes about it beautifully in such essays as "Love in the Morning" and "Communion" -- is just as puzzling to an arm's-length lapsed Catholic like me as a belief in UFO abductions or a flat earth.
But I always felt honored to be in Dubus' company, and chastened by his wisdom, his powers of observation and his masterly command of craft. Within the space of 21 pages, he pulls off a dark-comic essay about the New York publishing world ("Mailer at the Algonquin") and a heartbreaking essay about baseball ("Brothers," which originally appeared in
Salon), both among the finest I've ever read on those worked-over subjects. For any writer, this will be one of those books you read and reread, photocopy for your friends, come to terms with over the years and carry with you from house to house until you die. -- Salon
Beautiful as a view is beautiful, or a child, or a righteous struggle with a victorious ending. --
The 1986 highway accident that resulted in Dubus being largely confined to a wheelchair is an event that is by now familiar to readers of his award-winning short stories (
Dancing After Hours, etc.) and previous collection of personal essays ( Broken Vessels, 1991). In these 25 spare and luminous essays, most of which have previously appeared in magazines like the New Yorker, Harper's and Yankee, the author lingers over experiences past and present, from the everyday trials of life in a wheelchair to his thoughts on being a writer, a divorced Catholic and father. "Song of Pity" combines simmering rage at public indifference to the handicapped ("newspaper[s] would not review a restaurant that was accessible only to caucasians, or only to men") with recollections of an earlier time when he was the one pushing a wheelchair: "I spoke to the back of his head, and he spoke to the cold air in front of him." Other essays recall his encounters as a young writer with Kurt Vonnegut and Ralph Ellison in Iowa City, and Norman Mailer, whom he meets at the Algonquin during a whirlwind trip to New York to meet with his editor in 1967. In Dubus's sharply distilled prose, these meditations are as starkly tangible as they are resonant, providing a vision of his own life before and after the accident, a life united finally by a passion for love, life and craft.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"I mourn this, and I sing in gratitude for loving this," Dubus (
Dancing After Hours, LJ 2/15/96) writes of running year-round on country roads and up "Agony Hill" in one of the excellent and poignant essays (many previously published) contained in this slim volume. Touching on subjects from his sister's search for forgiveness after being raped, to the ethics of writing and publishing, to his complicated reaction to meeting a woman who saw the accident that confined him to a wheelchair, the collection murmurs deep sorrow, subtle joy, and fragile acceptance. Dubus's simple prose gently nurses profound meaning from the most daily of events, bringing him time and again to moments in his life when he failed to live up to Mailer's ideal that, as Dubus puts it, "it is better to be a good man than a good writer." In fact, these essays show that Dubus is both. Highly recommended for all libraries.--Rebecca Miller, "Library Journal"
Dramatic, captivating, and full of mystery...Dubus' prose is lathed to perfection.
Here we have a master at the height of his powers, an artist whose work "is suffused with grace, bathed in a kind of spiritual glow."
A rich account of the daily torments and triumphs of a human soul...[by] one of our most gifted writers.
This affecting second collection of personal essays from contemporary master of the short story Dubus (
Dancing After Hours, 1996, etc.) displays the distinctive direct and elegant style and often reflects the masculine Catholic world view that inform much of his fiction. Dubus says he was an active runner and walker before he lost his left leg at the knee and the use of his right one in an accident on a highway just north of Boston in the late 1980s. That experience, his ensuing physical struggle, and the dissolution of his marriage were written about in his first volume of essays, Broken Vessels, in 1991. Here he achieves an intensely personalized effect because of his technique of filtering his experience through the perspective of his faith. It's also a perspective of suffering, for Dubus continues to live every day in physical pain, as he explains in the at once bleak and redemptive closing piece, "Witness," about his recent encounter with a woman who saw his accident. Dubus is commanding and graceful as ever on the physicality and spirituality of love between men and women; and he writes with humility and honesty of his decision to live life in a wheelchair after an agonizing period of physical therapy; and of the occasional moment of radiance, such as his being carried onto the lawn by his older children to play ball with his younger ones. Wisely or not, he includes a letter of complaint to Amtrak that turns into a tough if dulcet rant. At least one recent critic, while acknowledging his gifts, has identified in Dubus the tendency, before and after his injury, to locate the emotional center of his writing in an overly indulgent, if bittersweet, nostalgia for theirrecoverable past. Still Dubus is an American original, and his talent continues to surprise.