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Townie: A Memoir Hardcover – February 28, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 183 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2011: Rarely has the process of becoming a writer seemed as organic and--dare I say it--moral as it does in Andre Dubus III's clear-eyed and compassionate memoir, Townie. You might think that following his father's trade would have been natural and even obvious for the son and namesake of Andre Dubus, one of the most admired short story writers of his time, but it was anything but. His father left when he was 10, and as his mother worked long hours to keep them fed, her four children mostly raised themselves, stumbling through house parties and street fights in their Massachusetts mill town, so cut off from the larger world that when someone mentioned "Manhattan" when Andre was in college he didn't know what they were talking about. What he did know, and what he recalls with detailed intensity, were the battles in bars and front yards, brutal to men and women alike, that first gave him discipline, as he built himself from a fearful kid into a first-punch, hair-trigger bruiser, and then empathy, as, miraculously, he pulled himself back from the violence that threatened to define him. And it was out of that empathy that, wanting to understand the stories of the victims of brutality as well as those whose pain drove them to dish it out, he began to write, reconciling with his father and eventually giving us novels like House of Sand and Fog and now this powerful and big-hearted memoir. --Tom Nissley

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Long before he became the highly acclaimed author of House of Sand and Fog, Dubus shuffled and punched his way through a childhood and youth full of dysfunction, desperation, and determination. Just after he turned 12, Dubus's family fell rapidly into shambles after his father--the prominent writer Andre Dubus--not only left his wife for a younger woman but also left the family in distressing poverty on the violent and drug-infested side of their Massachusetts mill town. For a few years, Dubus escaped into drugs, embracing the apathetic "no-way-out" attitude of his friends. After having his bike stolen, being slapped around by some of the town's bullies, and watching his brother and mother humiliated by some of the town's thugs, Dubus started lifting weights at home and boxing at the local gym. Modeling himself on the Walking Tall sheriff, Buford Pusser, Dubus paid back acts of physical violence with physical violence. Ultimately, he decided to take up his pen and write his way up from the bottom and into a new relationship with his father. In this gritty and gripping memoir, Dubus bares his soul in stunning and page-turning prose. (Feb.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition first Printing edition (February 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393064662
  • ISBN-13: 978-1203026219
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #811,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Walrus on February 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Since receiving my pre-order in the mail weeks before the publishing date, I could not put this book down. I have been a huge Dubus fan since a high school English teacher gave me a copy of the House of Sand and Fog. What makes Dubus such a fascinating writer is his ability to capture the very essence of humanity, be it good or bad. This brilliantly written memoir offers insight into the life of the man behind some masterfully written works of fiction. I am incredibly appreciative of his honesty as a writer and sharing such a personal part of his life. The relationship with his father and the role it played on his life certainly rang true for me, as I could often relate to such similar feelings. The thoughts, ideas, and feelings I experienced while reading this book will certainly resonate for a long time to come. I highly recommend reading this work.
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Format: Hardcover
Along about p. 100 I had to check the cover of TOWNIE to make sure I wasn't rereading Chuck Palahniuk's THE FIGHT CLUB by mistake. And it didn't much let up until the last hundred pages (and even that stretch was seasoned with fists, fury, and f-bombs galore). Dubus III chooses to focus on his coming-of-age days, specifically how he learned to build muscle and engage with all manner of white trash in the mill towns north, northwest of Boston. It isn't pretty, and it does grow redundant.

Perhaps it's a case of disappointed expectations. I anticipated more of a literary memoir -- one that focused on Andre's writing apprenticeship and the influence of his dad, the celebrated short story writer. In fairness, it is the father-son angle that is this book's strength. Like many writing fathers, Andre Dubus, Jr., let his kids down as he went through young wife after young wife, devoting mornings to his writing and leaving his first wife (Andre's mom) to fend for the four fledglings. Young Andre III, like some classic 90-pound-weakling in a comic-book Charles Atlas ad, vows to build muscles with relentless work outs so that he can defend himself and others in the hardscrabble, blue collar environs of his hometown. Trouble is, he is to his family and friends what the United States is to planet Earth -- the world's policeman. He sticks his nose in every possible wrongdoing he can, sometimes to his own detriment and often to others'. After a while it's not only his victims yelling, "Uncle!", it's his readers.

Another oddity in the book is the way he relates his initiation into writing. It's as if a light switch is thrown and... voila... he stays home from boxing one night to brew tea and write short stories.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of the main reasons I decided to read this book was because Andre Dubus grew up in my home town not far from where I live, in a Haverhill I did not recognize but then I am 7 years older than him and did not hang around the Avenues. His story focuses on his life after his parents' divorce, of his street fighting and boxing, of a very angry young man. In hearing his story I am truly amazed how he and his siblings survived and actually turned out to have a respectable life. Recently Chronicle (Boston TV Show) dedicated an entire show to Dubus, this book and Haverhill now. In listening to Dubus he talks about his mother and how she was a strong influence in his life. I found the book dealt very little with his mother other than she was manly absent in order to support the family and more extensively with his relationship with his father. I did find his book somewhat repetitive and at times seemed to rambling on.

Would I read the book if it were not about someone's life from Haverhill? No
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I'm a fan of this author but wondered how he'd write this very personal memoir. Instead of glossing over details (as so many memoirs do, leaving out negative experiences), Dubus has written a gritty book about his often violent life. In fact, I found myself surprised that he even became a writer after learning of his varied hardships.

I'm reluctant to put in spoilers here but will add that his parents' divorce was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to his life. This isn't to understate the effect of the divorce. Tight finances turned to what I'd term "desperate" and canned cheap food (Spaghettios, etc) became par for the course. Moving from one neighborhood to another, Dubus was often the target of bullies. He saw his father far less often and his father actually commented that "he felt like he was dating his children" because of regular weekly visits instead of seeing them daily.

Anger and fights became the norm for Dubus after he starting working out and training at boxing clubs. He learned how to fight but channeling his anger was far more difficult. Sometimes he'd go after a guy for a fairly minor transgression and then feel inklings of guilt afterwards.

You'll need to stick with the details of the author's early life to find out how he evolves. I winced when I read about how he went on a long run (over 8 miles) with his father while wearing ill-fitting shoes. I could practically feel every painful minute.

At an age (his 20s) when many writers already forge and hone their writing skills, Dubus was caught up in often violent activities before turning to writing in any serious way. His relationship with his father also changes, particularly after his father learns that his son can fight - something that the father never mastered.
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