"Mountains" is from the 1989 collection, The Cage Keeper and Other Stories. It is written in first person POV, present tense, and is divided into five sections. The story starts out with a man and woman in bed, the man having nightmares, obviously war time nightmares. Rick doesn't want breakfast and the woman watches him leave, "looking for them." She remembers one of Rick's horrific experiences and she tries "to be him." I like the way Rick's backstory is told through the present tense eyes of Sally. In the second section, Sally goes to work at a bar/restaurant. Section three, begins with Sally stating what she "should" be doing, "I should be on the bus right now." But instead she remains at the bar after her shift, drinking and remembering the "second time" she was with Rick and that he shared with her his secret place in Rainfall Canyon and tells her about a traumatic experience at the shoe store where he was working. In section four, Sally and Chuck drink and Sally judges the other customers in the bar/restaurant, "they think they're so fucking important," and she tries to "sink back...until I'm numb." In the last section, Sally has sex with Chuck, "letting my body decide, letting it take me out of my life," but she thinks about Rick riding his horse, Rex. Sally has taken on some of Rick's PTSD and it probably isn't going to help Rick and it's probably going to harm Sally. The way Rick's story is told through the empathetic character Sally is nicely done.
I picked up my copy of The Cage Keeper and Other Stories at a recent book sale. I'm so glad I did. I'm more familiar with his father, Andre Dubus.
Told in first-person and present tense we learn of the love of a father for a daughter and of a relationship a man has with his Catholic faith. Luke Ripley is a thoughtful and reflective man who grapples with reality, faith, hope, love and sex. It is a philosophical story and worthy of many reads.
"For ritual allows those who cannot will themselves out of the secular to perform the spiritual, as dancing allows the tongue-tied man a ceremony of love."
"What creates despair is the imagination, which pretends there is a future, and insists on predicting millions of moments, thousands of days, and so drains you that you cannot live the moment at hand."
"...if you're fat the boys won't like you; they won't ask you out," begins when Louise is only nine years old. She has two equally dysfunctional friends in high school but finally in college, Louise loses over sixty pounds with help of her roommate and college friend, Carrie. She proceeds to gain it back after she marries Richard and has a child. "She knows he will leave soon." Louise lost the weight but didn't improve her self-identity or self-esteem. Doomed to regain the weight. She began smoking, trading one addiction for another.
"She knows Richard is waiting but she feels his departure so happily that, when she enters the living room, unwrapping the candy, she is surprised to see him standing there." By the end of the story we know that Louise will feel comfortable and happy being fat even if only out of habit and familiarity. Louise will wallow in her low self-esteem and possibly pass the trait on to her son and we are pretty sure that Richard leaves forever.
Early in the story, first paragraph, we learn that the father's pity juxtaposes the mother's attitude about physical appearance. She's worried, not about her daughter's health, but about boys liking and dating her daughter.
"The Fat Girl" is an interesting psychological study of an overweight girl in a judgmental and controlling home. Louise's father is an enabler, possibly trying to mitigate the mother's judgmental attitude. The father probably doesn't want boys to date Louise.
I'm not sure the story needed the future details about Louise's high school girlfriends, Joan and Marjorie, other than as a trope for revealing their thoughts about Louise with their hindsight of age. The saddest phrase in the story, for me, is "Then their eyes dismissed her..." This story reminds me of the judgmental attitudes of the 1970s about overweight people. And, as I recall, everyone felt it their right to make comments. I was thin in the 1970s when a person even slightly overweight was subject to looks, comments, and advice. I remember my thoughts as being very judgmental and harsh but, of course, unspoken. Louise divides herself into two, "Every day Richard quarrelled, and because his rage went no further than her weight and shape, she felt excluded from it, and she remained calm within layers of flesh and spirit, and watched his frustration, his impotence." This is where Louise derives her power. "She ate, watching him" and "...teasing his anger."
Louise tests Richard's love and he fails as well as reveals his true character. "He truly believed they were arguing about her weight. She knew better: she knew that beneath the argument lay the question of who Richard was."
There is a point of view shift, "He truly believed they were arguing about her weight." She thinks that their arguments cover the real topic of contention and it is not her weight but Richard's character. But the true topic is probably Louise's passive aggressiveness. Her weight is the only power she has over her mother's emotions, her father's pity, Carrie's concerns and her husband's love. Louise is a master manipulator.
Andre Dubus won many awards: PEN/Malamud Award, Rea Award, Jean Stein Award, Lawrence L. Winship Award, Guggenheim, MacArthur Foundation. He died in 1999. "The Fat Girl" was included in his collection, Adultery and Other Choices in 1975.