Such Kindness by Andre Dubus III
Published by W.W. Norton
Publication date: June 6, 2023
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Contemporary, Literary
I’ve been craving pace in my reading lately so am surprised to be here with an introspective novel spanning only a few days and very little action. Set in present-day Massachusetts, Such Kindness by Andre Dubus III is a tender, painful look at one man’s reckoning of an expansive life that once included marriage, a son, and owning his own business, but is now diminished to government housing, disability, and constant pain.
Tom Lowe is an easily recognizable man. He’s built a life working as a contractor, a job that gives him the skills to build his own house himself. If he took out a high-risk mortgage to do so, why not? He’s strong, healthy, hardworking, and secure in his life with his wife and little boy. Until he breaks his back and both hips falling off a roof. The result is calamitous not just for his health, but for every carefully arranged piece of his life. Soon enough his home has gone into foreclosure and his addiction to OxyContin has left him sending his 10-year-old son to pay a dealer for his pills.
When Such Kindness opens Tom’s son and wife have long since moved on to better futures. He’s overcome his pill addiction, but still needs daily vodka to dull the flaming pain that is the pins in his hips—the result of surgeries that didn’t go as planned. They’ve left him unable to stand or sit for extended periods of time, making holding a job impossible. His only respite is lying on a plywood board.
Now 54, Tom is left contemplating credit card fraud to get his car out of the impound lot so he can go see his son on his birthday. That the man whose identity he wants to steal is the banker who pushed him into a predatory loan in 2008 is no coincidence. Tom’s paid for every mistake he’s made but, in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the current opioid epidemic, he believes:
“Nobody ever gets away with anything…” Except for bankers and Wall Street brokers and drug company executives…
In Such Kindness Tom’s actions play out as he tries to hold onto the man he knows himself to be, but whom he can no longer summon. Every measure by which he judged himself a success is gone, leaving him mired in toxic emotions. All of this is powerfully conveyed by Dubus’s elegiac prose. His gift for parsing emotions and distilling them into their purest essence hits hard at the heart.
The end is not much different from the beginning in Such Kindness, but the inner journey is vast. This is a story of a midlife unraveling, leaving behind the dropped stitches where a different choice would have meant a different chance. That Tom’s life is winnowed down to the bone with every protective layer of earned success, hard work, and expectations ground away makes for reading that lays bare the realities of middle-class life in America. A place where the tipping point between security and scarcity is as quick as the blinding flash of sunlight in a roofer’s eyes.
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