Delivering by Andre Dubus, 1978
The magic trick:
Intermingling painful childhood memories with the other more pleasant bits of nostalgia
In many ways, this is a standard bit of personal nostalgia. We get detailed memories of the 1970s Red Sox, broadcast quite romantically on the radio. We have two brothers growing up together on bunkbeds, playing baseball in the backyard. They have newspaper routes. They spend their money on honeydipped donuts. They spend summer afternoons on the beach, jumping waves. It’s Norman Rockwell, right?
Yeah, not so much.
The boys also have a shared agony as they cope with the alcoholic arguments of their parents that occasionally spill into violence. They have an extraordinarily complicated relationship with their mother – particularly 15-year-old Jimmy.
The truly remarkable thing about this story is the way all of the memories, good and awful, stitch together to form one fabric of nostalgia. It is very strange the way we often look back longingly on the bad times. “Delivering” ably illustrates just how easily that happens. And that’s quite a trick on Dubus’s part.
‘Okay, tell me.’
‘Shit. I was going to tell you at the beach. Wait, okay?’
‘You know she’s gone. Isn’t that enough for a while?’ He kicked up his stand. ‘Look. We’ve hardly ever lived with both of them. It’ll be like Pop’s aboard ship. Only it’ll be her.’
‘That’s not true.’
‘About hardly ever living with both of them.’
‘It almost is. Let’s go.’
Slowly across the grass, then onto the road, pumping hard, shifting gears, heading into the breeze and sun, listening for cars to their rear, sometimes looking over his shoulder at the road and Chris’s face, the sack bumping his right thigh and sliding forward but he kept shoving it back, keeping the rhythm of this pedaling and his throws: the easy ones to the left, a smooth motion across his chest like second to first, snapping the paper hard and watching it drop on the lawn; except for the people who didn’t always pay on time or who bitched at him, and he hit their porches or front doors, a good hard sound in the morning quiet. He liked throwing to his right better.