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Townie: A Memoir Hardcover – February 28, 2011
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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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But marriage and parenting four children would take their toll, and with the divorce, the children would watch their father walking away, while they were left behind, as many children of divorce are. Their lives would be more impoverished because of the financial strains of living with a single mom. Oftentimes there was not enough food in the house, and sometimes during the long hours that their mother was at work, the kids had to fend for themselves. And what they found to occupy themselves was often something disruptive.
But nearby, the father, Andre Dubus, already a published author, would enjoy the writer's life, while teaching at a nearby college. He had many female companions, some of whom he married. And his time with his children felt like "dating" them, a description he shared with them.
As the oldest son and second child, young Andre would find that living in a series of poor mill towns in Massachusetts would be a kind of training ground for having to fight for what he wanted. And to stave off the bullying that seemed to follow him everywhere. But first he had to work out and develop the muscles he would need.
Much of the story in Townie: A Memoir reveals what that life was like for the young boy, and how he eventually came to change how he looked at fighting; how he eventually learned how to deal with that rage that arose in him. In this excerpt, he shows us what that felt like:
"Ever since I was a boy running from other boys, I'd been making myself into a man who did not flee, a man who planted his feet and waited for that moment when throwing a punch was the only thing to do, waited for that invisible membrane around me to fall away and I'd gather once again the nerve and will to shatter another's. But I had discovered a new membrane now. The one between what we think and what we see, between what we believe and what is."
But it would take many years for young Andre to arrive at this place...and then only after he began writing in his notebooks and channeling his feelings into his writing.
It would also be many years before father and son would develop a better relationship. Toward the end of the story, when Andre had just published the book House of Sand and Fog, the closeness between them would be stronger than ever.
The story was riveting, even though the earliest sections that dealt with the rage and fighting were difficult to get through. The rewards that came in the second half of the book made having to slog through the violence worth it. Recommended for those who relish writer's memoirs, and especially for those who have enjoyed other works by this author. Four stars.