Spirituality and Disability in the Late Writings of Andre Dubus (1936–1999)
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.
Chapter Five: Dubus’s Aesthetic of Disability
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Dubus’s Aesthetic of Disability
While much of Dubus’s writing features thematic brokenness reengaged and redeemed through the symbolism of the Eucharist, his accident in 1986 forced him to face a new brokenness in his own body—one that wasn’t as easily redeemed. Far from being a devastatingly simple and direct path from prosperous success to sudden tragedy, Dubus’s journey into disability was complex, recursive, and immensely important for his writing. Dubus’s two volumes of essays, Broken Vessels and Mediations from a Movable Chair, address various aspects of living with a disability as well as with Catholic faith. The title story of his last collection, Dancing After Hours, features a character with a mobility impairment who uses a wheelchair and employs a personal caregiver, circumstances similar to his own at the time of its composition. Another story within the collection, “The Colonel’s Wife,” is the first story Dubus published whose main character is disabled. In response to his daughter’s suggestion that he write about life from his new perspective, Dubus said that he proceeded to “break” the legs of the main character in this story, the retired Colonel Townsend, whose wife was having an affair (“An Interview with Andre Dubus,” Smolens, 246).
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