He got good at fighting. "It gave me a place among men."
I wonder if his old pal, who "wouldn't be the one to jump in with fists flying," ever tried to dissuade him from the violence. "Andre was a strong-willed person," the friend tells me. "You could plant a seed and give a warning, but you weren't going to be able to have that deep talk that would then convince him he was going down the wrong road. Even when we were younger, I realized he needed to go down that road by himself to figure it out and hoped no great damage would be done to him." Or, it occurs to me, to anyone else.
Dubus hasn't been in a fight in 23 years. "And believe me," he says, "I've been in situations where the old me would've put the weight on that back foot and waited for the opening."
An ambivalence is apparent, both in the book and in conversation, a pride for the fighter in him mixed with an acute aversion to violence. Fighting became repellant; but he's pleased he learned to fight so well.
"I'm not a badass, I'm just an experienced fighter," he says as we start to drift out of Haverhill. "There are 30 men in this 10-block radius who could kick my ass." He pauses, looks over at me, and says under his breath with a smile: "It wouldn't be easy for them."
The sun has started to set as we leave Haverhill and make our way northeast, back toward the woods of Newbury, where Dubus now lives. "I associated all of New England with my dangerous, violent little childhood," he tells me. He spent time away, in New York and Austin and Colorado. "I thought they're all ignorant, they're all drug users, they're all scumbags. If it weren't for that rich girlfriend who wanted to come back here from New York, I don't know if I ever would've come back. And I'm so glad I came back."
We pull into his driveway. "This is my life now," he says. "Isn't this fucking wild?"
The house is big. He and his brother built this, too, with the money Dubus made from House of Sand and Fog and Garden of Last Days. He lives there with his wife and their three teenage kids; his mother-in-law lives in an apartment on the ground floor.
Almost dark now. He says, "Wait, wait, before we go in, come here, you've got to see this." And we tromp through some snow and he grabs my shoulder and says, "Just take a look." And we look up at this great house. A porch wraps all the way around, a large round window moons down above the driveway. "It took three years," he says proudly.
We race around inside — in haste, he has to get me to the train — room to room, huge kitchen, giant hearth. He points out his tile work, big blue ones in one bathroom. He shows me his 15-year-old daughter's lofted bed, the second-story deck, the space where he writes down in the basement, and then up a set of ladder-stairs to his lofted office. "Careful," he warns as we climb the stairs, "they're not to code." Into a locker of a room, not wide enough for two people to stand side-by-side, a small desk at one end with a computer and some papers, a small window at the other with a grey fleece blanket tacked over it as a curtain. No light gets in, and no sound, either.