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)
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.
Parts of it irritated me and his writing got a little monotonous at times, but later on found myself thinking back to it. So maybe that's the sign of a good novel. I wished the story had a few more twists in places, but I guess you can't demand that from a memoir. He lapses into a bit too much navel-gazing at times, but the ending is touching.
The book is interesting. It is a memoir without intrigue and cohesive story.
The narrator is awful: steady soporific voice hypnotizes. Be careful listening this book in the car - extremely dangerous. Read this book it is safer.
Heartfelt, Honest, Genuine
Andre III, just cuz he's the main character and who you know the most about. I appreciated his insights and growth.
The making of the casket.
It seemed like a very unique read, like it was just a straight-out stream of consciousness but it all flowed so naturally and smoothly. He did a great job of giving sensual cues that let you be at the locale of the scene.
I would listen again in a couple of years. That means a lot because I like to experience books I have never read.
The narrator (author) is someone I relate to as I grew up during the same time, in Hyde Park. I remembered the forced buissing and shameful pbehavior of adults in the 70's. I remember the influx of Iranian exchange students in high school, then in college....and the predjudice.
HONEST, MEMORIES, YEARNING
The real 70's
I was thrilled the movie
I study native plants, do revegetation projects, edit a newsletter, keep databases for clubs I belong to, and photograph (mostly plants).
I'm really tired of listening to this bored and boring narrative.
Sorry I bought this title, even on sale.
I'd price it at $1.95.
If I finish listening to the end, it will be a miracle.
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