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Townie: A Memoir Hardcover – February 28, 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
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. There is little mention of book reading or author emulating (what you'd expect of any writer-in-the-making) in the years leading up to this and continued ado about punching, killing, and maiming Boston's trash out in the cruel, cruel world. Then, in what appears to be his second story ever, an acceptance slip comes from PLAYBOY magazine, of all markets, one of the best-paying, most-impossible-to-breach markets. Whoa. The way it's approached in this book, it seems... out of the blue. Who, other than his dad and Breece DJ Pancake (one of the very few mentioned contemporaries) were his role models? Why do we hear about boxing coaches but never writing mentors?
It was a grind, but I hung in there for the 15th round. I was rewarded with some touching moments at the end between father and son. For me, the ending spoke of the promise that this book brings and earned it a third star. As a memoir, however, it is disappointingly limited in scope and redundant in execution. For fans of literary non-fiction, this is a letdown. For fans of Friday night boxing, a sweet reward.
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. He starts to respect his son, helping to bridge a chasm between the two.
Even though his life was often rough, I was struck by the fact that books, often classics, filled the bookcases of the Dubus household. So Dubus grew up surrounded by them - unlike many of his peers.
This work adds so much perspective and insight on the writer's life. You're likely to see his work through new eyes after experiencing this memoir. Highly recommended!