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Moving Toward Redemption

Spirituality and Disability in the Late Writings of Andre Dubus (1936–1999)

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Andrea Ivanov-Craig

American short-story writer Andre Dubus (1936–1999) was a “writer’s writer.” His acclaimed collections of short stories and essays involve one or all of three thematic discourses – that of the Catholic Church as center of meaning and value, the symbolic and healing power of rites and ritual on the human heart, and the ethical and spiritual dilemmas that drive human experience. “Like Chekhov’s” reports the Village Voice, “Dubus’s best stories contain the arc of a whole life in the language of specific moments.” Tobias Wolff summarized, “Andre Dubus is a master.” In 1986, however, Dubus lost the use of his legs when he attempted to help a stranded motorist on the highway.  The spiritual, physical and emotional suffering which ensued kept him from writing for a time but eventually led to his authoring 17 stories before his death in 1999. Moving Toward Redemption is a critical six-chapter study of these stories as they are united as capstones to his previous work, as they participate in the Catholic cycle of sin, suffering and sacramentality, and as they individually address the various transformations of his life in the aftermath of the accident. Moving Toward Redemption is the only book on Dubus’s writing since Thomas Kennedy’s A Study of the Short Fiction (1988). It is designed for use in courses on short fiction, religion and literature, life writing, genre study, and disability studies. It suggests ways to negotiate the conflicts and tensions between Christian and secular approaches to disability studies.

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Chapter Three: “Sisters” as Dubus’s Last Word on Suffering Rape

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CHAPTER THREE

“Sisters” as Dubus’s Last Word on Suffering Rape

 

In its May/June issue of 1999, the journal Book published “Sisters,” a short story Dubus sent to the editors two days before his death in February.1 Imbued with the mystique of nostalgia and vigilante justice, “Sisters” is the story of a woman raped and avenged in southern California circa 1890. Remarkable, if not unique, as a Western, “Sisters” is also a story of suffering rape, a topic addressed most notably by Dubus’s earlier and more widely read short story “The Curse,” in which a male protagonist, Mitchell Hayes, helplessly looks on while a nameless young woman is gang-raped in a bar. Both “The Curse” and “Sisters” suggest that the experience of rape initiates a penitential process in the protagonist; however, “Sisters” goes one step farther by making its protagonist the female victim, Adrienne Beaumont, and adding, not a male bystander, per se, but a male avenger, the African-American cowboy, Stephen Leness. “Sisters” also suggests that for the female victim of rape the ordeal of being raped ultimately results in an act of forbearance, which in turn may, one day, yield forgiveness. This act of forbearance is also, in a way, an act of penance for the hatred and desire for revenge the victim feels. Finally, with the help of prayer, forbearance becomes the purgation that may yield grace.

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