It is usually best when an author writes about an area or culture that is familiar, rather than one that exitsts only in the imagination. Andre Debus's collection of four novellas takes place in an area that he is very familiar with, as he lives nearby the Newburyport/Amesbury neighborhoods he writes about. You may remember Dubus as the author of The House of Sand and Fog a well received novel that was made into a movie. He is a gifted writer of love and reality; his characters expose their inner lives in ways that leave the reader acutely feeling their anxiety. Dubus writes honest stories with characters the reader readily relates to. You may think, "yes, I know that person, that's the guy or woman down the street.
The four stories in Dirty Love are lightly connected. You may catch a character or place that has appeared marginally in the previous story. Each main character is at a place in his/her life that could be a turning point, a chance to change or not. One story is about a lonely overweight single woman who longs to be like her married friends talking about their children and marriages. When the opportunity is there for her, does she take the step or not. In another story a man named Mark who is the managewr of a software company discovers his wife of 20 years is cheating on him. He hires a detective to follow her. Mark is frustrated by his desire and inability to regain his former secure life.
A third story concerns a weak bartender named Robert who is living on past laurels of his college years, unable to accept the fact that he is a failed poet. The final tale, bearing the same name as the title of the book is about a teenaged girl who is mired in self-distructive behavior. She is involved in on-line sexting that has gone viral. Her salvation might or might not be through an eighty year old grand-uncle who has lived through a crisis of his own and learned life's answers that the others are still searching for. The mutual affection between the girl, Devon, and her uncle may be the only true love shown in the book.
Each of these stories leaves the reader feeling sympathy and frustration for the characters. Dubus's settings are as real as his characters. You know you have been there on New England's north shore. I recommend this book to all who enjoy excellent writing.