Townie

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Overview

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 ...

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Townie: A Memoir

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Andre Dubus III is the namesake of famed short story author Andre Dubus (1936-1999), but when his parents divorced during the seventies, young Andre and his three siblings went to live with their mother in mill towns in Massachusetts' Merrimack River Valley. To defend himself in his gritty new neighborhood, Andre learned to fight with a fervor that surprised even himself. Each Sunday, however, he left that rough tussle realm to spend time with his ruminative college professor father. The chasm between his two lives is, in a sense, the subject of this extraordinary, jarring coming of age memoir. (P.S. Dubus is the author of Sand and Fog, an Oprah Book Club pick and a finalist for the National Book Award.)

Publishers Weekly
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.)
NPR.org - Michael Schaub
“Dubus III, author of the critically acclaimed novel House of Sand and Fog, relates the story of his childhood and young adulthood with an immediate, raw intensity—it's at times difficult to read, but it's almost impossible to turn away. His prose is unaffected in the best way possible; there's never a hint of preciousness or pretentiousness. And his depictions of the northeastern Massachusetts of the '70s are stark and evocative; like his father, Dubus III is a master of setting.”
San Francisco Chronicle - Dan Cryer
“This haunting memoir is as explosive as a Muhammad Ali prize fight, as vivid as a Basquiat canvas.... Townie moves with the accelerating momentum of a thriller novel, plumbs the depths of a bittersweet love affair, and rends the reader's heart in two.”
Anita Shreve
“Compelling, riveting, gritty and astonishingly moving, Dubus's memoir Townie achieves that rarest of qualities: it makes us love the boy who becomes the man.”
Ann Hood
“In this powerful memoir, Andre Dubus III explores the complicated and intense relationships between siblings, mothers and sons, and fathers and sons. Growing up in hardscrabble old mill towns, Dubus learned to fight and survive and ultimately to find his own glorious voice … as Dubus finds his redemptive place in the world at last.”
Richard Russo
“I've never read a better or more serious meditation on violence, its sources, consequences, and, especially, its terrifying pleasures, than Townie. It's a brutal and, yes, thrilling memoir that sheds real light on the creative process of two of our best writers, Andre Dubus III and his famous, much revered father. You'll never read the work of either man in quite the same way afterward. You may not view the world in quite the same way either.”
James Lee Burke
“The best first-person account of an author's life I have ever read. The violence that is described is the kind that is with us every day, whether we recognize it or not. The characters are wonderful and compassionately drawn. I sincerely believe Andre Dubus may be the best writer in America. His talent is enormous. No one who reads this book will ever forget it.”
Wally Lamb
“Whatever it cost Dubus to bare his soul and write this brutally honest and life-affirming memoir, it is an extraordinary gift to his readers.”
Elle
“In his memoir Townie, Andre Dubus III bravely claims all of the shadows he grew up under—his famous writer father, his parents’ divorce, his newly single mother’s impoverishment, the rough streets of the many working-class New England towns he called home. Fighting saved him for a while; then he put down his fists and picked up a pen. Lucky him, lucky us.”
Salon
This is a memoir both disconcertingly naked and immensely careful; Dubus refrains from bitterness the way a Buddhist monk renounces worldly possessions....It's tempting to get angry on the author's behalf, but Townie patiently teaches its readers that rage is self-poisoning.— Laura Miller
NPR.org
Dubus III, author of the critically acclaimed novel House of Sand and Fog, relates the story of his childhood and young adulthood with an immediate, raw intensity—it's at times difficult to read, but it's almost impossible to turn away. His prose is unaffected in the best way possible; there's never a hint of preciousness or pretentiousness. And his depictions of the northeastern Massachusetts of the '70s are stark and evocative; like his father, Dubus III is a master of setting.— Michael Schaub
Booklist
“Starred Review. Dubus chronicles each traumatic incident and realization in stabbing detail. So chiseled are his dramatic memories, his shocking yet redemptive memoir of self-transformation feels like testimony under oath as well as hard-hammered therapy, coalescing, ultimately, in a generous, penetrating, and cathartic dissection of misery and fury, creativity and forgiveness, responsibility and compassion.”
Boston Globe
“[A] harrowing and strange and beautiful book....an important moment in the growing body of Dubus’s work. ”
Miami Herald
“Dubus writes compellingly of those trying times. Townie is a poignant coming-of-age story told by a man whose raw determination allowed him to endure a boyhood ruled by violence and emerge talented enough to write about it with brutal honesty.”
Seattle Times
“[Dubus] is such a solid writer, he redeems the genre. He shows that truth can be as honest as fiction.”
Smith Magazine
“Fans of Dubus’s fiction will thrill to reading his muscular, occasionally lyrical prose rendering his own life.”
Associated Press Staff
“Write what you know. It's an adage drilled into anyone who's ever put pen to paper or fingers to keys. It's also what makes memoirs such a test for fiction writers.Andre Dubus III passes that test with the highest marks in Townie. It's a searing memoir; a punch in the gut, literally.... [Dubus has] discovered, during a life of enduring and inflicting pain, his voice as a writer. Townie captures the birth and evolution of that voice—one worth listening to by anyone who believes in the redemptive power of the written word.”
The New York Times
Townie is a better, harder book than anything the younger Mr. Dubus has yet written; it pays off on every bet that’s been placed on him.... Mr. Dubus’s prose is clear, supple, unshowy....you’ll agree with the boxing coach who said to Mr. Dubus as a teenager, 'I think you got the killer instinct, kid.'”
Cleveland Plain-Dealer
Townie has all the rich texture, lucid characterization, compelling conflicts and narrative momentum of the best fiction. It renders heartbreaking, violent, tender and sometimes absurdly comic scenes without a trace of narcissism or sentimentality. From first sentence to last, Dubus employs a dispassionate yet urgent voice. It allows him to do justice to his past and to the people who populated it.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“His ability to describe violence might be unmatched among contemporary writers. He understands the arcane, unspoken vocabulary of how fights start, as well as the bone-crushing details of how they end. But Townie is most memorable for how vulnerable Dubus seems, once he has stripped himself down to the soul for his readers.”
San Francisco Chronicle
This haunting memoir is as explosive as a Muhammad Ali prize fight, as vivid as a Basquiat canvas.... Townie moves with the accelerating momentum of a thriller novel, plumbs the depths of a bittersweet love affair, and rends the reader's heart in two.— Dan Cryer
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
“[A]n unflinching memoir, describing the degrees of darkness and light he found....Dubus has set a high water mark in this work: He shows us that the son's shadow can also be long, and can change the shape of that which came before it.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education
“You have to buy Townie.”
Laura Miller - Salon
“This is a memoir both disconcertingly naked and immensely careful; Dubus refrains from bitterness the way a Buddhist monk renounces worldly possessions....It's tempting to get angry on the author's behalf, but Townie patiently teaches its readers that rage is self-poisoning.”
Michael Schaub - NPR.org
“Dubus III, author of the critically acclaimed novel House of Sand and Fog, relates the story of his childhood and young adulthood with an immediate, raw intensity—it's at times difficult to read, but it's almost impossible to turn away. His prose is unaffected in the best way possible; there's never a hint of preciousness or pretentiousness. And his depictions of the northeastern Massachusetts of the '70s are stark and evocative; like his father, Dubus III is a master of setting.”
Dan Cryer - San Francisco Chronicle
“This haunting memoir is as explosive as a Muhammad Ali prize fight, as vivid as a Basquiat canvas.... Townie moves with the accelerating momentum of a thriller novel, plumbs the depths of a bittersweet love affair, and rends the reader's heart in two.”
Library Journal
Two men named Wes Moore grew up in Baltimore, both black and poor; one became a Rhodes scholar, while the other went to prison. The scholar interviewed the criminal seeking to discover the deciding factors in their lives. Tailor-made for book groups. (LJ 4/15/10)

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal - Booksmack!
Dubus III recounts growing up after his professor/writer father, Andre Dubus, abandoned his family. He details struggling through stages of handling violence in the wake of estrangement from his father as an invisible, bullied child, unable to fight back; through being a young man determined to protect his family and others around him; to hyper-vigilance, bent on hitting first, while becoming as big and strong as possible. His journey through violence and constant reflections upon the underlying causes are powerful; it is at once a sorrowful tale of loss and one man's extraordinary path to a peaceful life.What I'm Telling My Friends: One of the most balanced, reflective, thoughtful books I've read to date. This addresses a wide range of topics with grace and depth. Julie Kane, "Memoir Short Takes", Booksmack!, 12/2/10
Kirkus Reviews

A powerful, haunting memoir from acclaimed novelist Dubus III(The Garden of Last Days, 2008, etc.).

The author grew up poor in Massachusetts mill towns, the oldest of four children of the celebrated short-story writer Andre Dubus (1936–1999), who abandoned the family in 1968 to pursue a young student. Beautifully written and bursting with life, the book tells the story of a boy struggling to express his "hurt and rage," first through violence aimed at school and barroom bullies and ultimately through the power of words. Weak and shy as he entered his teens, Dubus III lived with his mother and siblings in run-down houses in crime-ridden neighborhoods, where they ate canned food for dinner and considered occasional "mystery" car rides to nowhere special with their mother a big treat. While his mother was at work, young toughs hung out at his house doing drugs. At 16, he began training with weights and grew strong to fight his tormenters, and he became a vicious brawler in a leather jacket and ponytail. Meanwhile, at nearby Bradford College, his father taught, striding across campus in his neatly trimmed beard and Australian cowboy hats. The elder Dubus sent money home and took the children out on Sundays, but otherwise remained out of touch. He eventually went through many young women and three broken marriages. At Bradford, which he entered as a student, Dubus III was known only as his father's son, "such a townie." Although the author stopped expecting anything from his father, he yearned for the connection that finally came years later when he helped care for the elder Dubus after the 1986 car accident that crushed his legs. By then, Dubus III had found a new way to draw on the anger of the "semi-abandoned," turning his punches into sentences. His compassionate memoir abounds with exquisitely rendered scenes of fighting, cheating, drugging, drinking and loving.

A striking, eloquent account of growing up poor and of the making of a writer.

Dwight Garner
Townie is a better, harder book than anything the younger Mr. Dubus has yet written; it pays off on every bet that's been placed on him. It's a sleek muscle car of a memoir that…growls like an amalgam of the best work by Richard Price, Stephen King, Ron Kovic, Breece D'J Pancake and Dennis Lehane, set to the desolate thumping of Bruce Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town"…Mr. Dubus's prose is clear, supple, unshowy. He gets a lot across with a few words.
—The New York Times
Darcey Steinke
…powerful…As this fine memoir closes, Dubus is concerned with a fundamental question: Can he care for a father who did not really take care of him? To the book's credit (and the author's), he does not lean on easy redemption.
—The New York Times Book Review
Booklist - Donna Seaman
“Starred Review. Townie is a resolute story about the forging of a writer in fire and blood and a wrenching journey through the wreckage of New England’s lost factory world during the Vietnam War era. But Dubus wasn’t born into poverty, rage, and violence. His father, an ex–marine officer turned celebrated writer and adored college professor, initially settled his first family in the bucolic countryside. But the marriage failed, “Pop” moved out, and the four kids and their overwhelmed mother plunged into impoverished small-town hell. Dubus, a target for bullies, and his equally complex and resilient siblings were hungry, neglected, and imperiled within a storm of druggy nihilism and bloodlust. Dubus survived by lifting weights and learning to fight, but his unbridled aggression, even on the side of good, exacted a spiritual toll. Although their charismatic father was oblivious to his children’s suffering, he was not unloving, and when an accident left him confined to a wheelchair, their support was profound. Dubus chronicles each traumatic incident and realization in stabbing detail. So chiseled are his dramatic memories, his shocking yet redemptive memoir of self-transformation feels like testimony under oath as well as hard-hammered therapy, coalescing, ultimately, in a generous, penetrating, and cathartic dissection of misery and fury, creativity and forgiveness, responsibility and compassion.”
Laura Miller
“When Dubus’ parents (his father was the revered short-story writer Andre Dubus Jr.) split up, he, his mother and his two siblings were relegated to a financially precarious existence in a New England mill town. He found their working-class neighborhood to be a realm of peril, where drugs, petty crime and...pointless violence lurked around every corner. Survival meant cultivating a hard, aggressively macho carapace, but Dubus’ occasional visits with his father showed him that there was a world of thought, tranquility and art out there somewhere, however inaccessible it seemed. The inspiration offered by these encounters was equaled only by the pain of his exile. Townie is the story of how Dubus made the journey to his own writer’s life, and also of how he almost didn’t make it. Unsparing and occasionally brutal, but never bitter, it’s an exceptionally eloquent depiction of...what it feels like to be left behind.

Townie, in addition to probing the wounds of class and family, explains how the son became, like his father, a writer... Long before the end of Townie it becomes evident that Dubus reached a maturity his father never quite attained. His growing up may have been hard, but he grew up all the way.”

Donna Seaman - Booklist
“Starred Review. Townie is a resolute story about the forging of a writer in fire and blood and a wrenching journey through the wreckage of New England’s lost factory world during the Vietnam War era. But Dubus wasn’t born into poverty, rage, and violence. His father, an ex–marine officer turned celebrated writer and adored college professor, initially settled his first family in the bucolic countryside. But the marriage failed, “Pop” moved out, and the four kids and their overwhelmed mother plunged into impoverished small-town hell. Dubus, a target for bullies, and his equally complex and resilient siblings were hungry, neglected, and imperiled within a storm of druggy nihilism and bloodlust. Dubus survived by lifting weights and learning to fight, but his unbridled aggression, even on the side of good, exacted a spiritual toll. Although their charismatic father was oblivious to his children’s suffering, he was not unloving, and when an accident left him confined to a wheelchair, their support was profound. Dubus chronicles each traumatic incident and realization in stabbing detail. So chiseled are his dramatic memories, his shocking yet redemptive memoir of self-transformation feels like testimony under oath as well as hard-hammered therapy, coalescing, ultimately, in a generous, penetrating, and cathartic dissection of misery and fury, creativity and forgiveness, responsibility and compassion.”
The Barnes & Noble Review

Andre Dubus III's memoir, Townie, should be lauded for a few worthy things. Dubus's story of his once-ideal childhood followed by bereft adolescence -- in which his father, the acclaimed author Andre Dubus II, was mostly absent and in which uncertainty, hardship, and aimlessness were constant companions -- is a cool examination of the shifting relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. It's also an unsentimental portrayal (and for that reason a welcome and engrossing one) of the lives of writers and the demands of vocation. And it's a rough tribute to the blighted industrial towns of Massachusetts during the '70s, when the feathers were dropping off the wings of prosperity for blue-collar America.

But what stands out about Dubus's memoir, which reads like the kind of book a writer has been waiting his whole life to produce -- one in which the sentences are unforced and exact, and the voice is placid with wisdom and generosity -- is its violence. Townie offers some of the best writing in recent American literature on how common and unremarkable the crunching of noses, the slicing of stomachs, and the stomping of heads is to the experience of a vast number of young men. What's more, the world in which these sometimes appalling fights (if you can call them that; they're closer to whirlwinds of rage) take place isn't quite the one we've been conditioned to expect. These aren't the favelas; we're not in West Baltimore. These are white kids, most of them from the lower-middle class.

True, some of them come from more comfortable circumstances than their peers, and some of their parents are even educated. But all of them party, go to school, or plain hang out under a colossal threat, one all the more stunning for how it's downplayed if not outright ignored. And if they survive their teen years? They get to spend their adult days in the mill bars, "darkened, nearly windowless caves filled with men and women drinking and smoking." The kids know the "stories of knifings or shootings in these places, of brawls with guys getting their teeth knocked out, their noses broken, their jaws splintered and having to be wired shut." This is to say nothing of the women who are assaulted or worse.

Townie's through-line is the story of how Dubus, who's perhaps best known for his well-received novel House of Sand and Fog, navigated the brutality around him, going from an ineffectual skinny kid who's powerless from stopping a grown man hammering on his kid brother's face, to a hardened boy who tears out the engine of his psyche and reconstructs himself into a hulking weightlifter and sometime boxer who has no problem tearing through the "membrane" of humanity encircling all of us. Fight after fight, Dubus can do so with increasing ease, and the results leave him with blood-spattered clothes and ruined knuckles -- and drained an ounce less of the stuff that makes us fit to be in society. "Again, there was this almost electric hum in my bones that I had somehow gotten myself wired wrong," Dubus writes, "that now I was stuck with impulses I could not control, ones that could lead to nothing but deeper and deeper trouble."

Like womanizing (another badge of indignity earned by teen boys), street fighting is about much more than sating primal impulses. It speaks to a ravenous emptiness, and a need to fill it, doing so with jolts of action and exhilaration that deliver diminishing returns. Dubus gives as concrete a dissection of this particular illness as one could hope. (It's a sickness that extends to the men responsible for them. Dubus's father was but one of many who fell in thrall to his son's physical courage; there's pride in having a bad-ass in the family.) And he gives as equally a clear-eyed account of how he escaped that death spiral.

Dubus found deliverance in books and in higher learning. His transformation from human wrecking ball to a man strong enough to renounce violence is no small triumph. That his brother and sister also find their way out of the same morass, though not without scars of all sorts, is something of a miracle. They are, however, the lucky ones. They're bright, even gifted, and have the benefit of a wonderful if imperfect mother whose dedication to her children's welfare is heroic. Dubus notes all the guys who didn't survive. Townie is a lament for them, and a blistering reminder for the rest of us who may have forgotten how fraught the path is to adulthood.

--Oscar Villalon

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393064667
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/28/2011
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 348,060
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Andre Dubus III
Andre Dubus III is the author of Townie, The Garden of Last Days and House of Sand and Fog (an Oprah Book Club pick and a finalist for the National Book Award). He lives with his family north of Boston.

Biography

Although writing runs in the family (his father is the late, award-winning short story writer Andres Dubus, and his cousin is bestselling mystery author James Lee Burke), Andre Dubus III never intended to pursue the literary life.

Raised by his divorced, cash-strapped mother in a series of drab, blue-collar towns in Massachusetts, Dubus attended 14 different schools before he was 18. As perpetual "new kids on the block," he and his siblings were bullied unmercifully; Dubus grew up fiercely protective of his brother and sisters and furious at the world for its injustices. After high school, he enrolled in Bradford College in Haverhill, MA, where his famous father taught creative writing -- and where it was generally assumed he would follow suit.

But, writing was the last thing Dubus wanted to do. He transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, studied sociology and political science, and graduated as a dedicated Marxist with a burning desire to right the world's wrongs. He took a year off from his studies and returned to Massachusetts, where he worked construction and channeled his pugilism into training for the Golden Gloves. He also began dating a student from his father's fiction class. One day, she showed him a manuscript written by one of her more talented classmates. Dubus was blown away by its beauty and spent the rest of the summer working on a short story he describes as "not very good." Nonetheless, he was well and truly hooked. Despite his best efforts to avoid genetic destiny, Dubus ended up going into the family business.

Over the next few years, Dubus supported himself as a carpenter, actor, bartender, boxer, private investigator, and bounty hunter -- deliberately choosing jobs that would free up his mornings for writing. His first book, The Cage Keeper and Other Stories appeared in 1980, followed by the novel Bluesman in 1993. He devoted more than four years to House of Sand and Fog, the heartbreaking story of two fragile people enmeshed in an ownership dispute over a small house in the California hills. Considered by many to be his finest work, the book was nominated for a 1999 National Book Award and became an Oprah Book Club pick.

Nine years later, Dubus returned with The Garden of Last Days, a mesmerizing novel that imagines the lives of the 9/11 hijackers who embedded themselves into the fabric of American society while secretly plotting its destruction. Dubus has said that the novel began with the recurring vision of a single haunting image -- a wad of cash atop a bedroom dresser. Slowly, he came to see that the cash belonged to a stripper who worked in a seedy Florida club visited by the terrorist who would pilot the plane into the World Trade Center. In its review, Esquire called the novel "riveting and disturbing, as beautiful as it is bleak," and critics heralded it as a searing return to form for the bestselling author.

Good To Know

House of Sand and Fog was adapted for a 2003 Academy Award-nominated motion picture starring Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley.
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    1. Hometown:
      Newbury, MA
    1. Date of Birth:
      1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      California
    1. Education:
      University of Texas at Austin

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