Over the weekend, MB and I watched "We Don't Live Here Anymore," a film that was featured at Sundance last year. Or sometime. Anyway, it is based on two short stories by Andre Dubus. I bought his selected short stories awhile ago, but I have to admit that it has been slow going. Reading a bunch of his stories in a row is like walking over cut glass in bare feet. I might have to do it in order to get across the street, but do I want to do it? Would I choose to do it? Why would I do it?
The movie was a depressing assortment of characters without motivations or qualms or guilt. Only Terry (Laura Dern) was at all sympathetic, because she didn't want to have an affair, she just wanted to have sex. I love Mark Ruffalo and Peter Krause, but by the end of the movie I just wanted them both to shut up. If I were married to one of them, I'd stick his jeans in the washer with all his underwear, and then I'd leave him. These men were pathetic. Did I mention they were both college professors?
In any case, it made me think again about Dubus's short stories. They contain characters who are so depressed and down trodden and without hope. What's the point? I found myself wanting there to be a big train wreck so the movie would be over. Then I went back and started reading "Adultery" one of the stories the movie was based on. It was totally different of course, but it had the same thematic concerns.
My question is: Why should I care? It's probaby sacrilege to say, but Dubus seems to fetishize the dark aspects of his characters. Unlike Carver, who I think is sympathetic to his characters and more often than not gave them some kind of hope, even if it was only the alcoholic kind, Dubus seems to be making a negative statement about the human condition.
It reminded me of a workshop I took. We had to read "Long Days Journey into Night." At some point I said, "What's the problem? They're all addicts." The teacher made the case that it was more complex than that, that the play was about the intertwining needs of the characters.
Sometimes, I think, it really is simple. The characters are alcoholics. So what? Why should I care? I think it's the job of the movie director or the short story writer to make me care. And if I don't care by the time it's over, has the artist done his job?