Raised by his divorced, cash-strapped mother in a series of drab, blue-collar towns in Massachusetts, Dubus attended 14 different schools before he was 18. As perpetual "new kids on the block," he and his siblings were bullied unmercifully; Dubus grew up fiercely protective of his brother and sisters and furious at the world for its injustices. After high school, he enrolled in Bradford College in Haverhill, MA, where his famous father taught creative writing -- and where it was generally assumed he would follow suit.
But, writing was the last thing Dubus wanted to do. He transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, studied sociology and political science, and graduated as a dedicated Marxist with a burning desire to right the world's wrongs. He took a year off from his studies and returned to Massachusetts, where he worked construction and channeled his pugilism into training for the Golden Gloves. He also began dating a student from his father's fiction class. One day, she showed him a manuscript written by one of her more talented classmates. Dubus was blown away by its beauty and spent the rest of the summer working on a short story he describes as "not very good." Nonetheless, he was well and truly hooked. Despite his best efforts to avoid genetic destiny, Dubus ended up going into the family business.
Over the next few years, Dubus supported himself as a carpenter, actor, bartender, boxer, private investigator, and bounty hunter -- deliberately choosing jobs that would free up his mornings for writing. His first book, The Cage Keeper and Other Stories appeared in 1980, followed by the novel Bluesman in 1993. He devoted more than four years to House of Sand and Fog, the heartbreaking story of two fragile people enmeshed in an ownership dispute over a small house in the California hills. Considered by many to be his finest work, the book was nominated for a 1999 National Book Award and became an Oprah Book Club pick.
Nine years later, Dubus returned with The Garden of Last Days, a mesmerizing novel that imagines the lives of the 9/11 hijackers who embedded themselves into the fabric of American society while secretly plotting its destruction. Dubus has said that the novel began with the recurring vision of a single haunting image -- a wad of cash atop a bedroom dresser. Slowly, he came to see that the cash belonged to a stripper who worked in a seedy Florida club visited by the terrorist who would pilot the plane into the World Trade Center. In its review, Esquire called the novel "riveting and disturbing, as beautiful as it is bleak," and critics heralded it as a searing return to form for the bestselling author.