Dancing After Hours
by Andre Dubus
In the world of Andre Dubus, pain is the center and driving force of love. Pain leaves a beautiful hole in the world; all the elements spiral down into its center, leaving streaks of color. Pain lies buried in the inner lives of Dubus's characters, puppeteering their lives towards happiness or failure (although Dubus usually cuts the story short before his readers have a chance to find out which).
Dancing After Hours is a sublime example of this philosophy. Each gem of a story resonates with a sweet sense of pain, as if death, heartache and betrayal are not the antithesis of happiness, but are actually its cause.
The collection starts strong with The Intruder, the only entry in the series that follows the norm of using character and plot to build a story. Young Kenneth Girard struggles with the angst filled "inbetweeness" of adolescence. Dubus portrays this agonizing time through the boy's forbidden love of fantasy, imagination and story, rather than focusing on sexual awakening like most stories in this vein. Kenneth's powerful and slightly awkward love for his worldly sister pales when compared to his love of imagination, and both forces - the child like wonder and the adult like lust - work together to drive the story to its perfect conclusion.
The rest of Dubus's stories veer slowly away from this structure, dipping further into the realms of deep character development rather than plot.
In Falling in Love, Dubus chronicles the lives of Ted Briggs (a wounded war vet) and Susan Dorsey (a disillusioned actress from Boston). As the title indicates with its present tense, the two fall for each other, struggle, and fall apart with equal passion and no sense of permanence. Dubus writes with an uncomfortable clarity and frankness, willing to sacrifice his characters to fate no matter how loveable they are. But just before the reality becomes unbearable for fiction, the characters unfold themselves and reveal their true thoughts, and it is in these moments the Dubus displays his real talent; weaving human emotion and cold logic into poetry.
Not to say that Dancing After Hours is hopeless . Ted Briggs makes a later appearance in All the Time in the World, this time playing the heroic knight to a working woman with no roots, no passion or agape. Although the fate of this second relationship is unknown, Dubus ends the story positively, in his trademark poetic prose, "She was hungry, and she talked with her friends and waited for her steak, and for all that was coming to her: from her body, from the earth, from radiant angels poised in the air she breathed."
This technique of abrupt endings, of loose ends and unfinished lives, is jarring at first. As a reader you may hop from one tale to the next feeling strangely unsatisfied. But ultimately, this style is essential to Dubus's work. For him to tell you the secrets of love, happiness and pain would ruin the ethereal magic of his work.