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The House on Alexandrine

Stephen Dobyns

Publication Year: 2090

Set against the violently fragmented matrix of Detroit in 1973, Dobyns' novel is an unlikely fusion of love and violence. The plot centers around the lives of fifteen people—and three dogs—who live in a Cass Corridor rooming house. When an innocent Ontario farm boy comes to Detroit in search of his runaway sister, he provides a temporary focus for the other residents. They include a bartender/writer, an avant-garde composer and his wife, a former policeman, a female artist whose rent is being paid by two men, and a pair of elderly ex-convicts—one a panhandler, the other a locksmith. Robbery, murder, a stabbing, a poisoning, and a fire serve to bring about a profound emotional transformation among the characters. Against this hostile urban landscape, Dobyns weaves his extrordinary human tapestry. By the novel's close, the housemates "unite" to form a rich though volatile world.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Title Page

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p. 2-2

Copyright

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p. 3-3

Dedication

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p. 4-4

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Chapter 1

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pp. 7-18

IT WAS FORTUNATE that Duane met Isaac Hough panhandling for seventeen centses in front of the Penn-Central Station. Duane had just arrived in the city, having walked across the Ambassador Bridge from Canada. He had never been in Detroit before and was drawn toward the station because it was so big. The only places he knew were the small farm towns of southern Ontario. Isaac didn't realize their meeting was...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 19-29

DANIEL CORBIN HAD been born in Ann Arbor where his father was a molecular biologist at the university. Daniel's mother had been one of his graduate students. Daniel was their only child. He had once heard his mother say, "Danny's birth put my research back two or three years." Daniel had been in his early teens and knew she didn't mean anything personal by it. Later he realized that in itself said a lot about their relationship. High school was followed...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 30-40

WHEN DUNCAN RAPP lost his temper a blue vein would stand along his left temple like a streak of comic strip lightning. At the moment Duncan was stamping around his living room and the blue vein was throbbing. "I'll knock his teeth out. I'll knock his teeth into his mouth and kick him in the stomach so he swallows them. Just see how he likes shitting out his own teeth. What's he drive, a Mercedes? I'll smash the windows." Isaac sat next to Duane...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 41-53

PERHAPS CORBIN HAD grown up with too few friends. As an only child whose parents were often busy he had a lot of time for friends but not much inclination and, really, he didn't know how to go about it. His parents talked to him like a little adult, which was then how he talked to his classmates. He was too serious, too disapproving. He didn't know how to be silly in the way a child can be silly, just forgetting himself. Corbin never forgot himself. He read and was engaged in various...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 54-68

APRIL HAD NOT registered at Wayne, nor at the University of Detroit, Oakland University, the University of Windsor, the University of Michigan or any other college in the Detroit area. Nor was there evidence that she was visiting classes. A number of students had found her picture familiar, but then it was familiar: it looked like anybody and nobody. During that last week in September, there was only...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 69-81

THIRTEEN HUNDRED BEAUBIEN was police headquarters and the home of the First Precinct. It was a blocky, gray, nine-story building built in 1922 at the corner of Beaubien and Macomb. Architecturally, the first three floors were a sort of American Indian Romanesque: high rounded arches with odd linear designs. The next four floors were Roman with long, thin pilasters separating every two sets...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 82-92

IN OCTOBER, the crime rate, which had been decreasing for two years, rose ten percent over the previous October. There were 15,351 crimes reported during the month: 1,508 robberies, 3,454 burglaries, 3,276 larcenies. Auto thefts increased 23.3 percent to reach 2,284. Misdemeanors were up 27.4 percent. Homicides showed a 14.5 percent drop: fifty-three as compared to sixty-two in October, 1972. Despite the drop, Detroit still had the highest homicide rate in the country. According to...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 93-104

RUTH COMANDELLA HAD large sensitive breasts, the nipples of which would react slightly to the heavy bass of a rock band, thunder or jets screaming toward Nebraska. Corbin had a friend who used to talk of what he called playing telephone with a woman's breasts, which meant putting one in his mouth and one in his ear. Although fascinated, Corbin's goals were more limited. It was Monday evening and Ruth was sharing Corbin's day off. The weather had turned chilly...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 105-115

SHORTLY PAST MIDNIGHT on Sunday, Duncan was walking to work and had just turned down Willis. The Turveydrop was a long block away. It was a cold night and Duncan wore a gray overcoat that reached his shins. On his head was a blue watch cap. He had still three quarters of a block to go when he saw five black teenagers walking toward him on the same side of the street. Because of the hour and because he felt groups weren't to be trusted, he reached in his coat pocket and put his hand on his...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 116-125

CORBIN DIDN'T WORK Sunday night. Late in the afternoon, his boss called and asked him to work Tuesday instead. The only other person who knew this was Ruth. She knew because they spent the evening together. They even took a bath together which was particularly daring because of the smallness of Corbin's tub. The walls of the bathroom were bright yellow and made them look like children with...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 126-134

NOVEMBER BEGAN. The closeness that had developed in the group surrounding Duane in October started to break up. Various incidents effected this. Later in his journal Corbin described them as being "like threads in a tapestry which lie beneath the surface then burst out in violent reds and blues." One of the strongest of these emerging threads shocked them all and may have done more than anything...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 135-143

GUNTHER TOOK DUANE to Eastern Market on Saturday morning. He had some friends living on a farm south of Flint who came to the market each Saturday to sell their produce: honey, jams and jellies, relishes and winter squash. Since they were in contact with a number of other communal farms in Michigan, Gunther suggested they mightknow something of April. Corbin doubted that Gunther really thought this, but he, too, had begun to go out of his way to help Duane...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 144-154

THE 1954 ORDINANCE concerning beggars and vagrants in the Detroit City Code, Section 39-1-3, read, "Any person who, within the city, wanders about and begs in the streets, or from house to house, or sits, stands or takes up a position in any place and begs from passersby, either by words, the exhibiting of a sign or by gestures shall be deemed a beggar. Every person who wanders about and lodges in outhouses, market places or other public buildings or places or...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 155-169

JOE GAGE WAS driving down Arden Park about a block south of the house he intended to burglarize. He was looking for Mallett's patrol car. Earl Dittmer was in the back of the dark blue Ford van. It was shortly after midnight, Saturday morning, November 24. The sky was cloudy and rain was expected. Seeing the patrol car, Joe slowed down. Mallett waved casually. Joe circled the block and drove to a house on East Boston. It was a red brick mansion with a two-story white...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 170-179

JOE GAGE WAS driving down Arden Park about a block south of the house he intended to burglarize. He was looking for Mallett's patrol car. Earl Dittmer was in the back of the dark blue Ford van. It was shortly after midnight, Saturday morning, November 24. The sky was cloudy and rain was expected. Seeing the patrol car, Joe slowed down. Mallett waved casually. Joe circled the block and drove to a house on East Boston. It was a red brick mansion with a two-story white...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 180-187

A MONTH OR so afterward Corbin wrote in his journal: "It seemed to begin with Jean McKiddie. She was the first to leave and left successfully with a purse full of money. What happened after her departure had nothing to do with her, but it was as if Jean had upset the balance. She had withdrawn her card from the card house. She left and our world began to disintegrate; slowly at first, then, after Joe Gage's...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 188-201

EARLY SUNDAY EVENING, December 9, Magnolia B. McBride, fortytwo, was shot once in the chest with a .25 caliber pistol. She was pronounced dead at the scene, an apartment house she owned on the northwest side of the city. By her death she became the 700th homicide victim of 1973. The reasons for the shooting were unclear. Apparently there had been a quarrel about the possible...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 202-210

THE MORNING AFTER Duane got stoned Louise talked to Duane about his sister and about his plans. Duane said he wanted to stay in Detroit and get a job. He told her he didn't believe he would find April. Although she might have come to Detroit, he felt he hadn't followed soon enough and that she had moved on. He didn't want to continue the search. He told Louise it wasn't important to him anymore. But Duane went on to say...

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Chapter 19

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pp. 211-222

WENCEL'S "Cantata for Mixed Voices, Tape Recorder and Percussion" was to be performed Wednesday night, December 19. Although finished the previous summer, he was still working on the tape, removing certain sounds, changing a squeak to a squawk. Since October he had been rehearsing the soprano, alto, bass and percussionist until they were probably ready to quit. Wencel wanted every...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 223-231

CORBIN AND SOME of the others in the house told themselves that Duane's lack of enthusiasm was perfectly understandable. He had been let down too many times. But Jean Etinger's letter was solid evidence and, despite Duane's pessimism, it seemed to justify a trip Montreal. Some might be sorry he had to leave; some might prefer that he stay in Detroit; but if he wanted to find his sister, then he should go. The degree of belief...

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Afterword

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pp. 232-234

I WENT TO high school outside of Detroit, leaving but not graduating in 1959. Then, in 1961, I enrolled in Wayne State University, graduating with a B.A. in English in 1964. After obtaining a M.F.A. in creative writing at the University of Iowa and teaching for a couple of years, I returned to Detroit in 1969 an,d worked as a general assignment reporter for the Detroit News until 1971. During high school...


E-ISBN-13: 9780814338858
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814321836

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2090

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Subject Headings

  • Boardinghouses -- Fiction.
  • Detroit (Mich.) -- Fiction.
  • Bildungsromane. -- gsafd.
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