Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III
Published by W.W. Norton & Company, 292 pages, $15
Each partner in a couple has a private experience of the relationship—secret feelings that fuel this collection of four novellas. In the first, “Listen Carefully as Our Options Have Changed,” Mark hires a private detective to capture his wife’s affair on video, and as he watches Laura lit up by love, he also sees himself in a disturbing new light. His own tawdry dalliance doesn’t help matters, and the story ends on a cliff-hanging moment of possible violence.
Next, in “Marla,” a lonely bank employee moves in with the tightly contained Dennis, but his house becomes an echo chamber as she wonders what love should be and whether she’s managed to feel it. Then there’s “The Bartender,” whose namesake is a would-be poet cheating on his pregnant wife; when she discovers his affair, her suddenly ferocious assault on the mistress brings on early labor. And in the longest tale, “Dirty Love,” the troubled Devon goes to live with her kind, sad great-uncle, her main protector, after explicit pictures of her ricochet through the Internet, leaving her so humiliated that her only other “real” intimacy comes from Skyping with a stranger.
Dubus’ stream-of-consciousness sentences stretch out achingly, with both sympathy and ambivalence toward his characters. Dirtiness is everywhere here, but so is the painful search for love.
From page 167: Devon just wanted to put her headphones on and make the whole place the background of her world, just a crowded carpeted bad dream she had to move through that smelled like perfume and shrimp scampi and sweat. But Danny Sullivan didn’t allow headphones or iEverythings on the floor (or her nose stud or more than one in each ear), and Devon had to work those nights with her insides never matching her outsides…