With House of Sand and Fog, his National Book Award-nominated novel, Andre Dubus III demonstrated his mastery of the complexities of character and desire. In this earlier novel he captures a roiling time in American history and the coming-of-age of a boy who must decide between desire, ambition, and duty.
In the summer of 1967, Leo Suther has one more year of high school to finish and a lot more to learn. He's in love with the beautiful Allie Donovan who introduces him to her father, Chick — a construction foreman and avowed Communist. Soon Leo finds himself in the midst of a consuming love affair and an intense testing of his political values. Chick's passionate views challenge Leo's perspective on the escalating Vietnam conflict and on just where he stands in relation to the new people in his life. Throughout his — and the nation's — unforgettable "summer of love," Leo is learning the language of the blues, which seem to speak to the mourning he feels for his dead mother, his occasionally distant father, and the youth which is fast giving way to manhood.
About the Author
Andre Dubus III is the author of The Garden of Last Days, House of Sand and Fog (a #1 New York Times bestseller, an Oprah’s Book Club pick, and a finalist for the National Book Award), and Townie, winner of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. His writing has received many honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Magazine Award, and two Pushcart Prizes. He lives with his family north of Boston.
Date of Birth:1959
Place of Birth:California
Education:University of Texas at Austin
Read an Excerpt
HEYWOOD , MASSACHUSETTS
The Connecticut River sounded different every season; it was a gushing stone roller during the spring runoffs, a narrow and quiet flow in the summer that in the fall receded to a thin clear wash leaving banks of leaf-covered mud and sunken tree root until winter, when the Berkshire snows came, and the ice formed over the rocks, and the water gurgled beneath it all as though behind a mask.
On its west bank, halfway through the trees up Saunders Hill, Jim Suther picked the guitar most every night. Though he was a white man he only sang blues songs, songs by men like Big Bill Broonzy, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, and Champion Jack Dupree. After a supper he would cook for both himself and his seventeen-year-old son, Leo, Jim sat in the parlor on a stool in front of the window overlooking the woods and he’d start to play. He sang all kinds of songs, some fast that Leo could hear in the kitchen while he was cleaning up or doing his homework and he would tap his feet, or else slow ones like “Lonesome Road,”“Up, Sometimes Down,” and “Motherless Child.”Most times they were slow like that, and Leo would sit in the parlor and listen for a while.
He liked to watch his father’s face. That was easy to do because most times Jim kept his eyes closed while he picked and sang. Leo liked how soft it got around the mouth under his mustache, how tender-looking. And Jim was a big man. Not tall and lean like Leo, but wide with thick legs, rounded shoulders, and upper arms that always needed more room than his shirtsleeves gave them.
Wednesday nights, four or five men from Jim’s union at Heywood Paper Products would drive up in their Ramblers and station wagons to play poker at the kitchen table and drink cold Narragansetts out of cans. Leo was already taller than some of the men and they rarely talked to him like he was a junior at Heywood High School, graduating class of 1968.
One man, Lars,who was bald and had a clean-shaven pink face, he was always telling jokes about men screwing women who weren’t their wives. Sometimes he’d tease a punch as Leo passed the table on his way to the fridge and he’d say:“Hey Einstein, tell your pop to play some white music for a change.”Leo would smile and raise his Coke in a mock toast, then go out to the parlor where Jim was bluesing it with Leo’s Uncle Ryder. That’s what he liked Leo to call him, though he wasn’t really his uncle. One night Lars said to Ryder: “You’re so skinny I can smell the shit in you, Stillwell.” And Ryder was skinny. He also favored his left leg a little bit when he walked, and every day he wore his fake lizard-skin cowboy boots, even to the mill. But Wednesday nights he played the most wonderful instrument Leo could imagine on this earth: a German-made, M. Hohner Marine Band harmonica;The Harp of the Blues, Ryder called it.
He owned nine of them he kept in a wide leather harness around his waist. Most of these were in different keys though Leo knew four were in C, a bluesman’s standard. When Ryder played he liked to stand and he never opened his eyes at all, just cupped that silver mouth harp in his two hands, the left never moving, the right opening and closing, or staying still depending on the effect he was trying for. When Leo’s dad sang a train song, Ryder’s harp sounded like a freight liner chugging down the rails. He’d suck out a long wah-wah whistle like you imagine hearing after midnight when a diesel’s pulling through town with no one to appreciate it unless it makes some noise. Then when Jim picked and sang a Saturday night special like “Whoopin’ the Blues” or “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” Ryder would rock back and forth on his feet and put both lungs to work with trills and flutters, throat pops and hand smacks, all the while staying in perfect time with Jim’s guitar.
On songs like that, loud Lars and the other men would come in from the kitchen with their beers and smoking cigars. They’d tap their feet and let out a holler or two, and Jim and Ryder showed their appreciation by quickly sliding into two or three more room-movers. But with the blues, Leo noticed, you couldn’t go too long without coming back to a slow one that either made you sweetly downhearted, or else reminded you of when you were. After one or two of those, Don’t-Mistreat-Me or All-Alone-Blues, Lars and the others would either go back into the bright smokey kitchen to finish their game,or else stub out their cigars,drain their beers, and call it a night.
But the best part of Wednesday nights was right before all that happened, when the parlor was full of people with their eyes on Ryder and Leo’s dad, when Jim Suther’s guitar and wavering alto voice didn’t just match Ryder’s harmonica, but rose above it so that Ryder was huffing to keep up and the more he did that the more Jim seemed to sit back because now it was the number itself that had come alive, the walling woowahing Oh-She-Up-and-Left-Me beauty of it, as if the song was now gentle flesh and blood that Ryder and Jim had no more hold on than moist-eyed smiling Lars or the foot-stomping, hand-clapping rest of them.
And while Leo clapped his hands in time, he would sometimes watch those faces that were soft with beer and wonder, even gratitude, in his father’s house. Leo thought about girls and women then and how content they’d be in this room too, how sad it was that there never were any. And children, six or seven of them jumping up and down or curled up under blankets on the floor asleep.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A wonderful story about a boy becoming a man with the back drop of a first love, blues music and the Viet Nam War. Leo Suther is at the sublime moment in life when he discovers who he truly is and what he wants in life. One of the truest characters written in modern fiction. This was a book I didn't want to end.
Bluesman is a novel written by Andre Dubus III. During this novel the main character, Leo Suther, falls in love and faces challenging situations. Leo falls in love with Allie Donovan, who, like Leo, is a junior at Heywood High School. As the summer progresses their relationship grows and is suddenly cut short when a conflict arises. This novel appeals to a vast audience: teenage boys, teenage girls, and mothers and fathers. Throughout this novel the characters in each of these categories must deal with extraordinary situations, enabling nearly everyone to relate. As an 18-year old boy, I can relate to a lot of Leo's thoughts and feelings, although I have not encountered most of his situations firsthand. I enjoyed this novel because I felt as if I was in Leo's position, which is a good testament to the quality of writing by Dubus. Andre Dubus III has written an exceptional novel about 17-year old Leo Suther during the summer of 1967. It is exceptional because the reader becomes engulfed in the story, and can relate to the situations the characters are placed in. Leo Suther and Allie Donovan are in a serious relationship throughout the summer. Leo is very much in love with Allie, and believes he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. Problems occur when Allie becomes pregnant with their child. Leo looks at this as a beautiful thing, but Allie is influenced by her parents and decides to abort the unborn child. When Leo discovers that his child is gone, he is devastated and upset. He realizes that his dreams in life are different than Allie's, and that there is no future for the two of them together. Throughout this summer Leo learns about himself and his beliefs, and also about the value of love. Overall, the summer of 1967 was one in which Leo Suther begins his journey into manhood. When Leo first began dating Allie, she was the world to him. He bought her flowers and treated her like the princess that she was to him. Dubus started their love story so perfectly to pull us further into the story. By making us so happy for the characters, Dubus can take away that happiness to create a feel for what Leo is going through. Both extremes of a relationship are present, and this contrast evokes extreme emotions from the audience. The writing was detailed to the point where the audience could feel as if they were going through the same situations the characters were facing. By putting us right in the minds of the characters, Dubus succeeds in making the reader part of the story. That is one of the best features of this novel, the fact that the reader becomes emotionally attached to the characters. Dubus not only tells us about Leo's journey through manhood, but also puts us in the driver's seat. While reading about Leo growing up and going through curious circumstances, I began to see similarities between Leo's views and those of my own. I consider myself a romantic, and Leo's position with Allie was one that I could picture myself in. In the sense that I would do the same thing if I were in his shoes. When Leo learns that Allie is pregnant, he is not worried or upset, but overjoyed. He is excited about the thought of raising a family, and spending the rest of his life with Allie. I believe that if I were faced with the same situation, I would react in an identical manner, and would be just as excited to pursue such an opportunity. Likewise, I would also be devastated to hear that my child was destroyed without my consideration. I truly felt for Leo while he was going through this ordeal. The audience is first introduced to Allie Donovan as a sweet girl who has the full affection of Leo Suther. When Allie aborted the child, Leo is understandably devastated. Their relationship goes downhill fast from there, but not by Leo's choice. Allie begins treating him like he did something wrong, although he was doing all he could to maintain good relations with the girl who threw away their child. Leo is upset with Allie's dec
I loved this book. Sad and sweet, a real page turner. The characters are so real and lifelike, I wish I could meet them in person.
A truly sincere piece of work about becoming a man. The honesty of Leo's character brings him to life, and the author portrays phase one of growing into manhood with heart and inspiration. Being a bluesman myself, the description of the blues lifestyle is honest, and right on the money.