Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: Townie by Andre Dubus III

Publisher/ Format: Blackstone Audio  14 hrs, 34 min, 400 page equivalent
Narrator: Andre Dubus III
Year of publication
: 2011
Subject: growing up
Setting: environs of Boston, Austin TX
Genre: Memoir
Source: public library audio download
Rating: 5 of 5
Recommended? yes

I had never heard of or read anything by Andre Dubus III before, and that is a deficit I regret.  This is one of the most powerful books I have read this year, and certainly the most memorable memoir of the many I've added to my list over the past several months.

It is raw, depressing, violent, dark, gloomy, full of melancholy and despair.  I listened to this on audio, and several times at the beginning had to put it aside to listen to something lighter.  I just had never been exposed to something like this in real life and found it almost too difficult to believe.  At one point, I stopped and Googled the author to see if this really was a true story.....it is.  But no matter how many times I put it aside, I had to return, had to find out if this intelligent, neglected, man-child would make it to adulthood in one piece.

The author reads this himself, and takes us through his life from his early childhood up to the present where he is enjoying success as a writer.  He grew up in a series of run-down mill towns on the outskirts of Boston.  His parents were divorced after the 4th child arrived, and although his father (also a writer) paid child support, and his mother worked, there was often not enough food, no new clothes or toys, and an absence of a good male role model.  Constantly afraid of the older, more street smart toughs in his area, he found himself fighting to defend himself or his siblings, and to overcome his fear, he began weight-lifting (his father had left a weight bench in the basement) and later took up serious  body building at a local gym.  As he developed his muscles, and learned some boxing moves, his self-confidence grew and he suddenly was willing to challenge any and all comers--often with physically disastrous results.

Although the book at times seems like one long, violent, ugly fight, and readers like me who never had to live in neighborhoods like this  wonder how on earth he a) stayed alive and b) stayed out of jail, the story progresses as he makes his way to college to study philosophy and sociology, as he works in construction and as a bar-tender,  as he discovers the joy of writing, and as he gradually reconciles with his father, developing a mature relationship he never had as a young boy.

In the end, this is a story of redemption, of a young man's discovery of the opportunities available to him, of families growing to appreciate and help each other and in the end of broken personalities being mended and learning to live and love as whole persons.

I cannot recommend this one highly enough.  Yes, the violence is repugnant and the language is street raw, but Dubus' presentation of life as it really is for economically challenged families gives us a glimpse into obstacles and opportunities that many would not have otherwise.


  1. I sounds like a tough but worthwhile memoir. Thanks for the great review.

  2. I haven't read him either, but have meant to. I think I'll begin with this memoir.

  3. I have read a couple of Andre Dubus III books which are amazing and beautiful. So I've had my eye on this memoir since it was published. I was very excited when I saw that you'd reviewed it (yours is the first review I've read of this memoir) and thrilled at how much you enjoyed it. I expected Dubus' memoir to be well-written having experienced his writing but I didn't realize how powerful and troubling his memoir would be since I only have a very vague idea of what his was like. I might have to pick it up this week!
    Thanks for your honest and wonderful review.

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