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The Last Worthless Evening by Andre Dubus (Godine: $15.95, 214 pp.)

November 23, 1986|Art Seidenbaum | Seidenbaum is The Times' Opinion editor.

Andre Dubus seems to have absorbed life rather than created it. His people, whether aboard an aircraft carrier or bending elbows at Timmy's tavern, have individual voices and separate hopes and particular tragic memories, but they also have a generic quality in common. Humanity is the easy word, probably the right one.

Dubus' people are neither celebrities nor scoundrels. Sometimes victims of circumstance and occasionally heroes of circumstance, they are wrapped in a reality each of us can recognize because the conversations and the contexts are so right. This collection of six stories, four of them long enough to be called novellas, has moments of violent death, almost all of them surprising exclamation marks in lives otherwise hardly punctuated.

"Molly" is about the discovery of sex but more about mother-daughter relationships and the odd costs of being an accepting parent. "After the Game" is about a baseball pitcher who became paralyzed on the mound but is more about a man being lonely--in another land and language. "Land Where My Fathers Died" is about an accident that looked like murder but more about family loyalty and even love. Family is a major theme moving the people in these stories--the delight from it, the dangers in it.

"Rose" is probably the most ambitious story because the title character is an unattractive, uncommunicative woman who hangs out in Timmy's as a "silent partner"--a regular who rarely speaks, part of the bar surface but not the surrounding conversations. Her story, when she finally tells it, is of being abused and exploited, of being humiliated until the lives of her children were at stake--and then how she lost her children even while trying to protect them.

While Dubus' fiction copies the life around him, it may have infused his own life. I was reading the galleys for this book in Boston, on vacation in a hotel room. I was also reading the Boston Globe for my daily dose of world and local calamity. "Rose" has a paragraph about human relations, each to each:

"If there is damnation, and a place for the damned, it must be a quiet place, where spirits turn away from each other and stand in solitude and gaze haplessly at eternity. For it must be crowded with the passive: those people whose presence in life was a paradox; for, while occupying space and moving through it and making sounds in it they were obviously present, while in truth they were not: they witnessed evil and lifted neither an arm nor a voice to stop it, as they witnessed joy and neither sang nor clapped their hands. But so often we understand them too easily, tolerate them too much: they have universality, so we forgive the man who watches injustice, a drowning, a murder, because he reminds us of ourselves, and we share with him the loyal bond of cowardice. . . ."

There was a story in the Globe one day about Dubus, how he had stopped at a violent roadside accident to help the victims, how his having stopped to be a good Samaritan--having refused to "stand in solitude"--caused another hideous accident. Dubus' leg was amputated. But he was pleased to be alive, to be able to continue his work.

He described himself in that story as a "minor writer." His own stories confute such public modesty. His fiction and his person are full of the goodness that men do.

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