Andre Dubus III begins his memoir, Townie, with a Bruce Springsteen lyric about boys trying to look tough. The quotation ultimately sets the tone for the book, which tackles the grit, drugs and street fights that accounted for much of the author's experience growing up in a small New England town in the ‘70s. It also focuses on his ascension out of a potential future that feels almost predetermined, as well as his sometimes tumultuous relationship with his famous father.
Dubus, whose first book, The House of Sand and Fog, was a finalist for The National Book Award, writes prose that is precise, deliberate, and meticulously crafted. This style is matched word for word by his own narration. Having the author perform a piece of work that is as raw and personal as this one makes for an incredible listening experience. The narration is slow and intimate there's a feeling of being drawn into Dubus' turbulent boyhood, of being alongside him as he comes of age in a strange time and in a strange family situation.
The family situation, in which his father leaves him and his siblings with a hardworking if somewhat financially destitute mother, might as well be another character in the story. Dubus is put in the position of basically having a child for a father. The fact that this father also happens to be a famous writer is rightly relegated to the sidelines most of the time. “Pop”, as he is lovingly referred to, turns a blind eye to his ailing family. He drinks and parties with his children. He philanders. He can never stay with one woman for very long. And yet, it's obvious that he has an immense amount of wisdom, commands great respect, and truly loves his family. He just has a weird, somewhat aloof way of showing it.
One of the triumphs of the narrative is that Dubus does rise above his situation, first through an interest in weightlifting and later through his own career as a writer. What starts as an endless loop of bar brawls, rundown cars, cheap beers, and neighborhood characters ends in a kind of Zen-like state that yields forgiveness and personal success.
Townie is also about two very different worlds. Dubus' life is laid out as a kind of double exposure, growing up with one foot on each side of the invisible fence that is class and education. More than anything though, it's about the decision to leave one kind of life for another, to grow disciplined in the face of hardship. Dubus starts as a townie, but ends up as something else. Gina Pensiero
Andre Dubus III, author of the National Book Award–nominated House of Sand and Fog and The Garden of Last Days, reflects on his violent past and a lifestyle that threatened to destroy him—until he was saved by writing.
After their parents divorced in the 1970s, Andre Dubus III and his three siblings grew up with their exhausted working mother in a depressed Massachusetts mill town saturated with drugs and crime. To protect himself and those he loved from street violence, Andre learned to use his fists so well that he was even scared of himself. He was on a fast track to getting killed—or killing someone else—or to beatings-for-pay as a boxer.
Nearby, his father, an eminent author, taught on a college campus and took the kids out on Sundays. The clash of worlds couldn’t have been more stark—or more difficult for a son to communicate to a father. Only by becoming a writer himself could Andre begin to bridge the abyss and save himself. His memoir is a riveting, visceral, profound meditation on physical violence and the failures and triumphs of love.
©2011 Andre Dubus (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“The best first-person account of an author’s life I have ever read.” (James Lee Burke, New York Times best-selling author)
“In this gritty and gripping memoir, Dubus bares his soul in stunning and page-turning prose.” (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)
“Powerful, haunting. . . . Beautifully written and bursting with life.” (Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review)
I believe a reviewer should finish a book before submitting a review. What do you think?
I have mixed feelings about this book, Dubus 111's memoir. It is raw and naked, violent and gentle and is about redemption. Dubus grows up in the mean streets near Boston. He is of in my generation, a teenager living with the backdrop of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Vietnam War on the television, the movie Billy Jack, Dave Brubeck on the parents turntable and lots available of drugs and sex. His absent father, not there at all for young Andre and his siblings, is always on Andre's mind and in his heart. As an adult, Dubus 111 clearly forgives his father and is abundantly understanding of why he and his sisters and brother were virtually ignored. He quotes his father as saying he felt as though he was "dating his children" since he was afforded only a weeknight and weekend day visitation schedule. I couldn't help but wonder if this contact schedule was self imposed or mandated.
Poverty stricken adolescent Andre turns to violence; is it because of the cultural, interpersonal, internal and familial conflicts he endures? And in the face of his violent acts he strives for clarity. His wish is granted; he comes to believe that all violence just breeds more violence and as he says, it hurts.
Although it makes sense to me that an author would want to narrate his audio book, especially a memoir, I don't think Mr. Dubus' narration does his prose favor. The narration is flat and monotone and although this in a way works, as this is indeed Andre's voice, maybe it's the editing I disliked. His voice comes on and off in spurts, clearly read in random segments so it was mottled in terms of tone, volume and clarity. Overall, I do think I liked this book, and I do so love this author's other works, it just was a bit of a mix for me. I look forward to others' reviews.
I loved this memoir. Dubus zeroes in on the angst of being a poor young man in a single parent household and methodically lays out his life for all to see, moving from a kid who allows himself, his friends, and, most painfully, his family, to be pushed around and bullied at will by others, to his years as a fighter, and one who made a point of interceding on behalf of others' turmoil. Finally, he begins writing in earnest, and through his writing begins to understand his best role in the world. It is heartfelt, open, and honest. I found it difficult at times to hear of the physical confrontations with others, but he redeems himself, both for himself and the reader. Great memoir, highly recommended.
I really liked this book, and the narration was very good. The only issue I have with it is the author's rather monotonous descriptions of situations. I lost count of the amount of smell references he made to scenes and places and the amount of cigarette smoke references were multiple.
That said, the second half of the book is truly compelling and a real coming of age tale, the first part did take some getting used to for me.
Mr Dubus has created a wonderful, harsh, rawly open read that could only come from his depths...by digging deeper into his being than most of us are willing to even contemplate and examine in detailed accounts of his life experiences from his earliest recollections in his parent's home to the finality of a father's burial. This is not a feel good read but rather an intense self evaluation of chilhood lived in poverty, of human struggle and growth expressed with both quiet composition and understated power. Through out the read, I felt the author's character in his commitment to remain true to his recollections no matter how unflattering to his person and come away feeling privileged to have been allowed to share his journey and life lessons.
Although this memoir has elements in common with other memoirs by adult children of neglectful or abusive parents, this is FAR BETTER than Jeannette Walls "The Glass Castle" or Mary Karr's "The Lairs' Club."
It is as good as "House of Sand and Fog" and few works are.
I am an unabashed fan of this author's father and am delighted by this author's own novellas, essays and short stories.
This autobiography touched me in a way that few autobiographies could.
Of course I had "known" the elder Andre Dubus only as he presented himself in his work. I was surprised by the depths of my outrage toward him as I realized how he had neglected the children of his first marriage and how that neglect nearly -- but did not -- destroy his children.
On the whole, this is an eye-opening, triumphant and inspiring autobiography and the son's acceptance and forgiveness of his father allows me to continue to love that writer's work.
I read the NYT review, which praised Townie but said "until it loses traction in clichés about redemption at its very end" and I disagree with this evaluation.
This book deepened my admiration and respect for the younger Andre Dubus and I found the ending cathartic.
Like his father, Dubus is a writer's writer as much as he is a reader's writer.
Despite the elder Dubus' well-known act of heroism and the loss of limbs it cost him, if one is going to compare the two, know this: the younger Dubus learned more from his father's mistakes than his father learned from them.
I look forward to reading more work from Andre Dubus III and I thank him for reading what must have evoked at times painful memories.
As an Austinite, among my favorite lines: "That’s what Texas did to me, took my hatred of bullies and bullying and institutionalized it."
And Andre Dubus III did something for me no other writer has: he eloquently explained to me how the same release found in engaging in acts of violence could be found in writing. Bravo, Mr. Dubus, Bravo!
What a good memoir about the author of The House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus III ! It had all the characteristics that I would look for in a good memoir. First of all, Andre had a tough life ??? a tough childhood. So that gives the reader lots of drama, conflict, and suspense. Andre IS good at describing these conflicts so that the reader really feels them. Then, he has two different turning points in his life that provide him revenge and then redemption. In this way, Andre???s internal conflicts are finally resolved, and it felt really moving to see how these changes manifest in his life.
The only fault I have with the book is that the drama leading up to both of these turning points goes on too long. Before Andre shifts into revenge mode, there are too many times when we see him being bullied and scared. Then, after he starts lifting weights and training as a fighter, there are just way too many confrontations and bloody battles. I already got the point about Andre fighting to make up for all the earlier times he was bullied and couldn???t defend his family or himself! I really think the book would have benefited by shortening these two sections. I almost wanted to give up on it at one point.
My favorite parts were some of those involving his ???redemption.??? When he becomes a writer, his analogy of how clearing his head with writing was as good and better than doing so by fighting was really moving. His marriage and the birth of his kids helped him to overcome his brutal past as well. His description of caring for his kids as ??????a love so large my body could not hold it all, ??? is great. Then when he talks about his dad???s funeral and looks back on his past and we get a condensed view of how far he and all his family have come, well, I thought that was a really emotional ending. He does it by describing a car full of punks who interrupt the funeral briefly. This sets him on a fantasy of following the car as he might have done in the past to beat up the punks. This description is interwoven with the minister at the funeral reading The Lord???s Prayer. It???s like the prayer was for him and how far he and his family have really traveled to be able not to be ???led into temptation??? and for him to be able to forgive his father for all his many shortcomings. It was a great way to put his whole life in perspective and end the book.
I was bored and I didn't get the point. His life is interesting to a point, but not enough to write a book about. And his narration is very monotone and hard to listen to after a while. I wouldn't use a credit on this one.
When the audio book finished I thought that the book was amazing and the performance was absolutely stupendous. Then I heard in the summary information that the author had done the reading. I gasped out loud and started laughing. That explained why the accents were so perfect and the voices were spot on. I am so glad that I listened to the book rather than reading it although I do love reading books.
I grew up in the same area as the author and I had thought the character of these towns was indescribable. Now I know better. The author captured the flavor better than Stephen King could have done it.
The reading was perfection.
I felt a sudden understanding of what my brother must have experienced when we were growing up. As a teenager he seemed to attract violence and now I understand a bit more of how that happens.
I've recommended this book at every opportunity. Especially for teenage boys and young men but as a middle-aged woman I absolutely loved it.
Andre Dubus III is a violent man. I felt that after finishing his novel, HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG; having read his memoir, TOWNIE, I am certain of it as well as a bit more knowledgeable about the origin of the violence. Dubus III and his siblings were essentially abandoned by their father, short story writer Dubus II, when they were very young. Their mother then raised them (but mostly neglected them) in the slums, where they had to learn survival tactics. Dubus’ violent streak served to both protect him and impress his father.
TOWNIE is Dubus’ story of growing up poor with educated parents, using boxing and street fighting as survival strategies, and eventually learning to fight with his words rather than his fists. The book is filled with one exquisitely told brutal event after another. I listened to the book on Audible, narrated by the author, and the flat intonation with which he read his own writing is monotonous enough to counteract the ferocity of the prose . His dispassionate reading helped take some of the sting out of the brutality and probably fairly represented how inured to violence he became during his adolescence.
Violence was one theme of the book; the other major theme was Dubus’ striving to earn his father’s love. When his parents divorced, his father moved to the other side of town and lived a relatively elite college life while leaving his wife and children to live the deprived life his ex-wife could provide. Dubus and his siblings had dinner with their father occasionally, but otherwise saw little of him. It was only when Dubus began fighting that his father took notice. Dubus became a sort of alter-ego for his father, and he supported his father emotionally during his final years. As the book ends, Dubus seems proud of how far he’s come. However, he did not manage to make me like him or even feel that he was ultimately the “good” man he’d like to think he is.
It was hard for me to like TOWNIE given its heavy emphasis on violence and the fact that I really didn’t much like Andre Dubus III as he portrayed himself. The writing is very descriptive and evocative, however, so while he may not be a wonderful guy, he is a good writer.
Perhaps, only because the author himself is narrating and it's his story.
Andre (III), of course. I loved following him along in his journey. I would like to hear from his youngest sister some day. I wonder if she saw things differently?
Both. What a triumph over terrible circumstances. This story is fascinating. I thought that it was going to be about boxing and I wasn't thrilled about that. Thank goodness I was wrong.
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