Emotional Scars in Andre Dubus’ “Gone So Long”

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For those of us who read House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus III’s new novel again offers distinctive, memorable characters, their backstories, and their dire sadness and loss.

In Gone So Long (W.W. Norton & Company), the author gives us Danny and Linda who grew up together in a small Massachusetts town during the mid-20th century. Although Danny is rough around the edges and clearly not handsome, Linda, a great beauty and object of desire, marries him and they have a little girl, Susan. In a fit of jealousy, Danny murders his wife while their three-year-old daughter watches the horrifying scene.

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Forty years later, Danny, who served prison time and is now gravely ill, longs to find Susan. Predictably, from Susan’s point of view, which is not easy to imagine, her father’s action has been the source of her misery. She has endured the emotional scars of her mother’s murder her entire life. To add to her grief, she was raised by her maternal grandmother, Lois, who remains filled with anger over her daughter’s death still, to this day.

Although Susan is married to a kind and patient man, she is detached and deeply invested in her own destiny, in any form of relief. Her despondency colors her every move and decision. This is the setup for Danny’s search for his daughter, juxtaposed with Susan’s own demons. None of the above is a spoiler, but rather the premise of the novel and a roadmap for each character’s stance.

Dubus’ ability to draw us into his narrative is singular. His rich details, vivid scenes and compelling writing propel the reader forward. And we walk in the shoes of each character, witness their pain and their achievements in the midst of their sorrow.

Most striking is Dubus’ portrait of Daniel (Danny) Ahearn, the ex-con who by taking his wife’s life has destroyed his own, his daughter’s and his mother-in-law’s, each haunted by his deed. Danny’s suffering, his view of the world and his efforts to find Susan are palpable and painful.

Reading Gone So Long is like taking a spiritual road trip. Sure, we might think we know the destination and what to expect in terms of pitfalls along the way, but we’re fairly sure of the destination. Aren’t we?

There are times when one senses the despair and times when one feels the sort of hope that each of us aspires to. At the end of the book, the work of Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”) and William Kennedy (Ironweed) came to mind. Dubus writes of the unimaginable in a voice that makes it tragic, poignant and part of the human condition.

Gone So Long is now available to purchase.

Image courtesy of amazon.com

ABOUT ANDRE DUBUS III:

Andre Dubus III is the author of The Garden of Last Days, House of Sand and Fog (a #1 New York Times bestseller, Oprah’s Book Club pick, and finalist for the National Book Award) and Townie, winner of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. His writing has received many honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Magazine Award, and two Pushcart Prizes. He lives with his family north of Boston.

Susan Shapiro Barash is an established writer of thirteen nonfiction women’s books, including "Tripping the Prom Queen," "Toxic Friends" and "You’re Grounded Forever, but First Let’s Go Shopping." She teaches gender studies Marymount Manhattan College and is a well recognized gender expert. Her novel, "Between the Tides," was published under the pen name Susannah Marren.

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