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Written by Timothy Sexton
It’s not memory you need for telling this story, the sad story of Robert Raymond Dubois, the story that ends along the back streets and alleys of Miami, Florida, on a February morning in 1981, that begins way to the north in Catamount, New Hampshire, on a cold, snow-flecked afternoon in December 1979…
This isn’t the entirety of the novel’s opening line. The first period in the book won’t occur until at least an equal number of words is appended to what is excerpted above. The opening paragraph—which will go on for another page with an equal lack of terminal punctuation will proceed to introduce just about every major character—by name—and give a fair indication of where the story begins and ends. It is a daring strategic ploy: opening your novel with a spoiler without any alert. But it works.
The metabolic rate of history is too fast for us to observe it. It’s as if, attending to the day-long cycle of a single mayfly, we lose sight of the species and its fate. At the same time, the metabolic rate of geology is too slow for us to perceive it, so that, from birth to death, it seems to us who are caught in the beat of our own individual human hearts that everything happening on this planet is what happens to us, personally, privately, secretly.
The title of the novel alludes to the geological foundation of tectonic shifting of large land masses over enormous periods of time that can only be perceived through that long-term perspective even though the masses are really in a constant state of flux far too microscopic to be detected by mere observation. The plot of the novel is really two narrative threads disconnected from each other on a minute basis, but headed for collision on a broader time scale. In a way, the novel is a metabolic examination of storytelling and plotting.
Aubin—the chief of police, he’s called, though he has no assistant…came to the window and peered in at us. He was wearing his cap and the jacket of his uniform, so we knew this was official business, this warning, even though he often called on us or shouted hello when he passed by, for the sister-in-law, Vanise, is the mother of his child and he enjoyed keeping track of the child, although he no longer cared for the mother, who, despite her youth, had grown thin and sour-faced and silent, except when she talked to us or to her baby.
That long opening punctuation-challenged spoiler which opens the novel informs the reader about Bob Dubois and his brother Eddie, his wife Elaine and his best friend Avery Boone. One name that does not pop up is Vanise Dorsinville, much less Chief Aubin. Bob is one of the tectonic plates and Vanise is another and their story—though separated by geography, culture and economics—provide the continental drift of the narrative.
And so ends the story of Robert Raymond Dubois, a decent man, but in all the important ways an ordinary man. One could say a common man. Even so, his bright particularity, having been delivered over to the obscurity of death, meant something larger than itself, if only to him and to those who loved him.
The novel ends as it opens; with a long, italicized paragraph short on punctuation, but long on summary and philosophical denouement. It is a spoiler as well but placed where a spoiler should be. The last chapter is more than a mere summing up events and tying of loose threads. Like the end of films like American Graffiti and Animal House, the narrator provides post-climactic information on what happens to some of the characters, but unlike those humorous epitaphic summaries, here the narrator is providing this information which may be considered superfluous for a reason. He is providing a sort of context; not for the events themselves, but rather for his reasons for telling the story.
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