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Broken Vessels (1992)

Broken Vessels (1992)

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4.35 of 5 Votes: 4
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0879239484 (ISBN13: 9780879239480)
david r. godine publisher

About book Broken Vessels (1992)

This book devastated me. I think it's impossible for any two different people to read this in the same way. It's a book of personal essays, and they're personal for the reader, as well. I can't recommend this book enough, but take care that you don't read it if you're in an emotionally weak place, because the way it grabs you personally is by forcing you to face mortality and human frailty and to recall your most traumatic experiences. Or maybe you should read it when you're hurting...if you're the sort of reader who needs to find others to relate to in order to process your pain. And it will certainly make you want to find your loved ones and love on them. I'm telling you. When we were 20, my best friend Sarah drunk drove her head into a telephone pole. There was all sorts of healing after, but she was never the same person. When I first saw her in the ICU, she wasn't Sarah at all. She wasn't. Of course I believed she would be, again. I fully did, even though her skull had been busted open and her brain gouged. I believed in the made for TV movie versions of comas, and that Sarah would heal, most likely with help from our prayers, and when her body could finally rest and rebuild, she'd open her eyes and be Sarah. But this early coma version of Sarah was not her. It was twisted and in traction and it was bloated and she wasn't her self; she was pieces. She was veins and skin and blood and hair. People came and left, caring for her various pieces and parts--physical therapy for her legs, a surgeon for her nearly severed arteries, and nobody--despite my pleas--to shave the hair growing on her face, which was always perfect when she was Sarah. Andre Dubus wrote this collection of essays--spanning a time in his life surrounding an accident that took his legs from him, before, during and after. Given the choice, I'd rather lose my legs than my brain function, as I expect most people would. Andre was changed in devastating ways, but he was able to keep his self, however fractured it became. He even became more of himself. The things he held important in the early essays in this book remain important to him and only deepen. One of my favorite essays in the set is On Charon's Wharf, which he wrote before his accident, but which starts, "Since we are all terminally ill, each breath and step and day one closer to the last, I must consider those sacraments which soothe our passage." Religion, sure, but also eating breakfast with a loved one. Or breathing with them. He seemed to be saying that since we can go at any moment, we must love another. It's all we can do for each other. Oh shit. I'm making him sound saccharine, which he isn't in the slightest. Just read this passage (please): So what I want and want to give, more than the intimacy of words, is shared ritual, the sacraments. I believe that, without those, all our talking, no matter how enlightened, will finally drain us, divide us into two confused and frustrated people, then destroy us as lovers. We are of the flesh, and we must turn with faith toward that truth. We need the companion on the march, the arms and lips and body against the dark of the night. It is our flesh which lives in time and will die, and it is our love which comforts the flesh. Beneath all the words we must have this daily acknowledgment from the beloved, and we must give it too or pay the lonely price of not living fully in the world: that as lovers we live on Charon's wharf, and he's out there somewhere in that boat of his, and today he may row in to where we sit laughing, and reach out to grasp an ankle, hers or mine. What's amazing to me is that he figured this out before his trauma. It's like that scene in Our Town where Emily asks the Stage Manager whether anyone realizes how precious life is while they're living it, and he replies, "No. Saints and poets, maybe. They do some." So was Dubus a saint and a poet? No doubt. And then the essays reach the point in time when he was struck, and unlike Sarah, his brain was fine, but his body was now a broken vessel. I'm going to fail in explaining this section; especially the way in which he moved on after (the "I'm forever a cripple" section,) in perpetual frustration, humiliation and pain from his fancy wheelchair. I thought about Sarah and her accident many times while reading this. I remember going to her therapy sessions and cheering when she could walk, clumsily, with her adult diaper bulging, and being unable to reconcile the idea that this was the same girl. Her eyes weren't even the same. Sarah's body has long recovered, but her brain never fully did and her self is different, which will really mess with you when you try to believe that your self is more than your brain. It really will. But our selves are definitely more than our body parts; our legs and our spines or our hearts can fail, but Dubus was grateful that his mind remained, however tortured it occasionally was. One more passage so you'll know how I know. He's writing about his daughter, Madeleine, who his wife was pregnant with when his accident happened: She grew sleepy and I put her in the chair with me and buckled the seat belt around her and took her up the ramp and to the refrigerator for her bottle of orange juice, then to the crib and sang "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" while hers closed, she stayed on my chest, and I held her, drew from her little body and loving heart peace and hope, and gratitude for being spared death that night on the highway, or a brain so injured it could not know and love Madeleine Elise.

It took me a little while to warm to this little book of short stories and essays by Dubus. You need to read it in an unhurried, contemplative frame of mind, and savour the unique expression of this quiet voice of introspection and contemplative calm. Once you find this place, though, in yourself and your day, this little book is a thing of beauty and inspiration, a pleasure which steals upon you in your chair, and moves you, in the end, to tears with the love and honesty, sensitivity and unique perspective of a man who, in seeming to write about his fairly unremarkable days, conveys a universal truth about the human spirit, its limitations and weakness and frustrations, finally resting in the beauty of acceptance. Here's an example from his last piece, which constitutes part five of the book, timed a couple of years after his car accident and subsequent confinement to a wheelchair. "So my crippling is a daily and living sculpture of certain truths: we receive and we lose, and we must try to achieve gratitude, and with that gratitude to embrace with whole hearts whatever of life that remains after the losses.."

Do You like book Broken Vessels (1992)?

There aren't many essay collections on my bookshelf, since so few of them merit re-reading. This volume is an exception. Almost everything in it is gold, right from Tobias Wolff's introduction. Classic essays here on short story writing, on Dubus' friend Richard Yates, and the pitfalls of publishing in Penthouse and The New Yorker. (The former demands fewer commas.) He is one of the few American writers that makes baseball sound interesting.False notes are few. However, there is one essay that jars. After describing having to queue for food parcels from the state, Dubus then goes into great and loving detail about all the expensive hunting gear he's just bought, even after saying it barely brings in any food for the family. Come again?His selected stories are worth your time too.
—Ryan Williams

Part of me wants to wrap this book in beautiful paper and leave it at the door of all the people I care about, think highly of, or want to know more. Part of me is scared that if I did that people would read it, see all of it and react with anything less than amazement. I'm trying to find words (honest, moving, painful) but they all seem ridiculously trite. I keep thinking, "naked". If I actually had the guts to share this book with someone, hand it from my hand to theirs and say the truth, "I loved this book", it would feel like standing naked in front of them and saying, "what do you think" and then cringing while waiting for a response.The essay "Broken Vessels" alone is worth the book. Maybe even one paragraph in that one essay.And the essay "Marketing" validated my love of short stories.One of his essay's ends with the line, "All I ask is a smile" and I had to laugh, because that is exactly what I was doing. I was siting in the Powell's cafe with this big goofy grin on my face after having giggled with recognition and appreciation throughout the majority of the essay.I went back to the beginning,and read the essays from start to cover after being stopped short in the middle of one I had skipped to near the end. Of all the essay's there were only 3 that I didn't completely LOVE!

These non-fiction stories are ranging from the mildly interesting to the deeply personal, at which point they become most effective. We get stories on running, baseball, traveling across America on train, as well as feminism, family, ghosts (yep) and the writer's awful road accident. Andre Dubus' style is kind of hard to pinpoint, yet he is always passionate, even when in doubt. This was actually my second attempt at reading this collection and for the life of me I can't remember why I gave up the first time. Good stuff.

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