NY Times Reviews Andre Dubus III’s Latest

How to Live When You’ve Lost Everything

In a new novel by Andre Dubus III, a man searches for hope and dignity after a long run of misfortune.

By Isaac Fitzgerald


Tom Lowe is, well, low. Destitute. About as close to rock bottom as he can get. He was once a successful carpenter with his own business, a gorgeous house he designed and built himself — with the help of an (eventually disastrous) adjustable-rate mortgage — and a wife and child he adored. Now he’s divorced, estranged from his 19-year-old son and living in Section 8 housing in Amesbury, Mass. Worst of all, Tom, the narrator of Andre Dubus III’s novel “Such Kindness,” isn’t able to work.

Work, you see, is what made Tom feel useful. It’s what made him a man. Someone who could hold his head up high. Work was Tom’s way of expressing his love to his wife and to his son: Look at this beautiful life I have made for us. “Every day that I worked on building my home,” he recalls, “I felt like I was in some temporary state of grace.”

When he started falling behind on his mortgage payments, Tom knew how to solve the problem: by working more. Which eventually led to his fall — a literal fall, while Tom was doing some roofing. A brief distraction, then nothing but gravity, air and, eventually, ground. He had a debilitating injury. Surgeries. Pain medication. And then addiction. From there, Tom’s life started slipping away from him in the same inevitable-seeming motion that he felt when he fell off that roof, when his “body seemed to unmoor from its very center.”

Now living off disability checks and E.B.T. cards that he sells for cash, so that he can buy rotgut vodka to dull the burning pain caused by the screws in his hip, Tom is alone and stewing in bitterness. He’s kicked his addiction to opioids, but has allowed a new kind of addiction into his life: resentment. He blames the banker who encouraged him to take out that mortgage. The insurance company that didn’t pay him what he was owed after his injury, despite years of on-time payments (until he missed the last two, allowing the company to deny his claim). The doctors who prescribed him the painkillers and the giant pharmaceutical conglomerates that made the pills in the first place. “Big Pharma, Insurance, Banks”: an unholy trinity of elusive enemies. Read the full review at the New York Times.

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