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If you ask the hard-luck narrator of Andre Dubus III's new novel what he's accomplished in 54 years, he'll mention the carpentry business he owned and the houses he built, one of which he and his family called home in happier times.

"All my life I've been a man who works," Tom Lowe says.But the last half-decade has been terrible for him, a calamitous stretch that emptied his wallet, ended his marriage and estranged him from his son. He's so desperate that he's about to commit an ill-considered crime.

Like previous novels by the Massachusetts author, "Such Kindness" examines eternal themes through challenges facing blue-collar New Englanders. It's a big-hearted book and, like one of Tom's buildings, it has a dependable frame: likable characters, relatable dilemmas, strong prose. But Dubus' evident desire to write a novel that helps heal a country wounded by opioid addiction, class warfare and other ills results in some schematic, clumsy scenes.

Everything changed for Tom when he fell from a roof and broke both hips. Surgery didn't alleviate his pain, and for a time, he was hooked on opioids. When his prescriptions expired, he "sent my young son Drew out into the cold to buy me a baggie of Os." Tom beat the habit, but 19-year-old Drew didn't forgive his dad.

Meanwhile, the bank took Tom's house and his marriage collapsed. Today, Tom lives alone in a tiny apartment and drinks a lot of vodka. His underemployed neighbors play video games and smoke pot all day.

Along with a friend, single mother Trina, Tom hatches a scheme. Looking for pre-approved credit cards and blank checks, they steal trash from a banker in a misbegotten adventure that plunges those around Tom into trouble, adding to the mistakes for which he ought to atone.

The author of "House of Sand and Fog" is a discerning storyteller. He empathizes with Tom's plight while holding him to account for poor choices. His sentences are stout, and he finds poetry amid the mundane, such as a description of classical music, "its rising violins often making me feel like the world is a mystery and I've left it behind."

But Dubus' pious message that we should all be kinder includes mawkish set pieces in which strangers have meaningful conversations about parenting and spout timeless verities. He italicizes key words, lest we miss points about "thoughtfulness" and "unspeakable gifts."

He also pens improbable plot developments, some of which suggest the involvement of a higher power. When Tom needs to get to a distant hospital to see a family member, he starts walking, knowing his hips will soon give out. On the way, he's bitten by a dog, whose owner drives him to the hospital he needed to visit in the first place.

"Such Kindness" is often solid, a novel that deserves praise for its nuanced depiction of working-class people. But Dubus'heavy-handedness prevents this from being one of his better books.

Kevin Canfield is a writer in New York City.

Such Kindness

By: Andre Dubus III.

Publisher: Norton, 320 pages, $29.95.