The Fat Girl A Short Story by Andre Dubis
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In the short story “The Fat Girl” by Andre Dubis, the main character Louise is followed from the time she is nine years old up until she has her own child. Her mother ruins her self-confidence at a young age saying to her “you must start watching what you eat” (Dubus 320) when she was only nine years old. Her father is just about the only character in the story who accepts Louise for herself. “She’s a growing girl” (Dubus 321) he would say to her mother when she would limit Louise on what she could eat. Louise has dealt with an endless conflict of how other people feels she should look and eat. Louise is being opposed by society.
Louise’s mother is one of her biggest critics. When Louise was only nine years old her mother told her “in…show more content…
Although they are not fat, they have their own insecurities within themselves. This could be one reason Louise feels so comfortable around them, because they also have something they are unhappy with. Joan and Marjorie do not seem too much concerned with what Louise has going on in her life. Though they were her best friends they did not know of her secret eating behind her mother’s back. Marjorie says in the story “You’re lucky you don’t smoke; it’s incredible what I go through to hide it from my parents” (Dubus 322). Though Louise does not smoke, she knows exactly what it is like hiding something from parents. They never ask about her weight, or life at home. They themselves do not understand why Louise is big because in public it looks as if she is on a diet. “She never eats,” Joan and Marjorie say of Louise (Dubus 322). After high school Louise did not hear much from her “best friends.” They were not really best friends, more of just people there with her throughout her high school journey.
In college Louise choses to befriend another thin girl, Carrie. They become really close and even write one another when they leave for breaks during college. Even still in college, Louise hid candy and would eat it when she thought Carrie was asleep. One night Carrie said to Louise “One night last week I woke up and smelled chocolate. You were eating chocolate, in your bed. I wish you’d eat in front of me, Louise, whenever
August 1, 1999
BOOKEND / By JONATHAN MAHLERThe Transformation of Andre Dubus
rnest Hemingway's ''In Another Country'' was one of Andre Dubus's favorite short stories. It's minimalistic, like many of Dubus's own stories, and it involves the military, a common theme in Dubus's writing. It is set in a wartime hospital in Milan, and its central characters are the narrator, a young American soldier, and an Italian major. Both have been injured, though not fatally. The right hand of the major, who had been Italy's greatest fencer, has been shriveled to the size of a small child's, while the American, a former football player, has lost his calf entirely and can no longer bend his knee. In the hospital are machines that a doctor assures them will heal their damaged limbs. And so the two men meet every day at the machines, the major teaching the American the subtleties of Italian grammar. In the story's final scene, the major suddenly explodes in anger and storms out of the room. He returns to apologize and explain his outburst: his wife had contracted pneumonia and died unexpectedly within just a few days.
The story resonated so powerfully for Dubus that he wrote an essay about it, ''A Hemingway Story,'' which appears in his final collection, ''Meditations From a Movable Chair.'' At first, Dubus writes, the story's meaning was elusive. Was it about the spiritual ravages of war? Or was it, as a friend at the Iowa Writers' Workshop had suggested when they were running laps one afternoon, about the futility of cures? But eventually Dubus saw something that he hadn't seen before: ''In Another Country'' was a story about healing. Though the major never believes that the machines will cure his hand, he wakes up every morning, brushes his teeth, shaves, combs his hair and walks to the hospital. And, as Dubus writes, ''Every one of those actions is a movement away from suicide. Away from despair.''
I was reminded of those lines this winter, when I heard that Dubus had died from a heart attack at his home outside Boston. I first heard Dubus read in the winter of 1986, at my high school in Massachusetts. He was a burly, barrel-chested man with the self-confident swagger of an ex-marine; as the snow fell, he read ''Anna,'' an evocative story about a young couple in a dreary working-class town who hold up a drugstore. Six months later, Dubus stopped on a busy highway to help a motorist in distress and was struck by a car. He never lost consciousness, but he did lose one leg and the use of the other. He would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
After the accident Dubus struggled with depression and was divorced from his third wife, who proceeded to take custody of their daughters. It was not easy for him to return to writing; I once heard him say that trying to write after the accident was like chasing a blowing piece of paper on a windy playground. He seemed to have lost his bearings. In one early story-in-progress, it took him 2,400 words to wake a family up, get them dressed, feed them breakfast and get them out of the house -- a sequence that he had intended to accomplish in a single paragraph. But when he did finally start publishing again, something strange happened: Dubus, who had always been something of a writer's writer, began to receive a certain measure of attention. After the publication of a collection of stories in 1988, he won a MacArthur Fellowship. Then his first book of nonfiction, ''Broken Vessels,'' was a runner-up for a Pulitzer. In 1996, there was a $30,000 Rea Award for short fiction; the same year, his collection ''Dancing After Hours'' was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.
But if Dubus was gaining popularity, he was also being read differently. When he was a biped, as he himself liked to put it, Dubus was considered a tough guy, a gritty, macho, muscular writer who chronicled the lives of everyday Americans in spare, rugged prose. His characters ran the gamut from marines to minor league ballplayers to a memorably drawn fat girl. As a cripple (again, Dubus's preferred word), he was read as a writer with an altogether different sensibility, one that was much longer on introspection, empathy and vulnerability. ''The world is a different place when seen from a wheelchair,'' his friend Tobias Wolff once wrote, ''and he documents that difference with the clarity and detail of an explorer in new terrain.''
To take this transmutation a step further, you might say that Dubus went from being a redskin to a paleface, in Philip Rahv's famous formulation. To Rahv, these were the archetypal poles of American fiction: a writer was animated either by experience or by consciousness, energy or sensibility, conduct or theories of conduct.
Rahv's exemplars were Mark Twain and Henry James, but Hemingway and Fitzgerald might have worked just as well. It's a reductive and even somewhat dated distinction (Rahv's essay was published in 1939), but it's irresistible all the same. Richard Ford, Robert Stone and Norman Mailer go with the redskins; Ann Beattie, Nicholson Baker and Don DeLillo belong with the palefaces. It can be illuminating as well, especially in the case of Dubus, who became, by virtue of an accident, an emblem of these two predominant strains in American literature.
At his funeral, one of Dubus's daughters reflected on his turn inward: ''He had to be very still, and I think like anyone who's forced to live in stillness, he learned a great deal about himself.'' No one was more aware of this transformation than Dubus himself. He once told an interviewer that losing his legs had rid him of his fear of disability and misfortune.
This newfound courage enabled -- indeed compelled -- Dubus to dig deeper into the fabric of his own life. ''Broken Vessels,'' which was published in 1991, includes a wrenching account of the accident and the emotional damage that it wrought. The title comes from a story in the New Testament that Dubus's physical therapist tells him. A potter is making a pot and it cracks, so he smashes it and makes a new one. ''You can't make a new vessel out of a broken one,'' she tells Dubus. ''Yes. It makes sense,'' he answers. ''It started as a marine, when I was 18; and it ended on a highway when I was almost 50 years old.''
If ''Broken Vessels'' represents Dubus's rebirth as a paleface, ''Meditations From a Movable Chair,'' published just last year, shows him at his most self-conscious. Here, the most mundane gestures of an average Dubus day, like making a liverwurst sandwich for one of his daughters, become subjects of emotionally charged musings. And as the book's title suggests, the ghosts of the accident are still working on him in mysterious ways. In ''Giving Up the Gun,'' Dubus, a gun lover since his early boyhood in Louisiana, writes about his decision to get rid of his eight pistols. He had carried one of these guns, a .38-caliber revolver, for some 13 years. Then one day in 1990 he changed his mind. ''On the train,'' he writes, ''I gave up answers that are made of steel that fire lead, and I decided to sit in a wheelchair on the frighteningly invisible palm of God.''
Religion had always been in the background of Dubus's writing, but in the final decade of his life his passionate belief in the teachings of Roman Catholicism moved to the fore. In an essay about the rape of his sister in ''Meditations,'' he writes, ''But one bright day her anger and hatred will turn to white ash, and she will forgive him, the rape will finally end, and the man will truly be gone, to wander in her past.''
For the secular reader, lines like this can be alienating. Indeed, by my lights, Dubus's disability came to represent both the strength and the weakness of his writing in these paleface years. He was, in a sense, a prisoner of his body, and a certain moral ambiguity that had always drawn me to Dubus seemed to disappear from his stories. Still, there is no doubt that the work Dubus leaves behind is all the richer for the fact that he, like the Italian major, refused to surrender to his despair.
Jonathan Mahler is a senior editor and writer for Talk magazine.
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