Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III

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Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: An open and honest account (warts and all) of a poor childhood and adolescence in Massachusetts in the 1970s/1980s. Dubus thinks that the answer to all the violence he sees around him on an almost daily basis is to counter it with his own form of personal violence - his fists - before a slow and steady change of mind.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: July 2011
Publisher: W W Norton and Co
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0393064667

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The book opens with Andre and his father taking a jog. Seems a normal and natural activity - what's to write about here, you could be asking. Well, I'll tell you. By this time the father no longer lives in the family home, the mother is struggling to pay the bills and to put food on the table - and the author, Andre is too embarrassed to admit to his father that he doesn't own a pair of jogging shoes. He's borrowed his sister's even although they're about two sizes too small, he's in agony seconds into the jog but is he going to own up? Nope. Bloody feet and pain are a by-product of precious time with his father. So straight away, I'm getting the gist of the book and the relationship between father and son.

Andre then tells us, bit by bit, what life is like for him, his siblings and his mother (now head of the household, albeit a reluctant one). We are told of grotty living conditions in the grittier parts of town. And I got the distinct impression early on that the family had to keep their wits about them, just to get through the days. Crime, drink, drugs and violence all feature heavily in this book as the 'norm'.

And home life is made doubly dangerous for all four Dubus children because their mother is absent for a lot of the time. She has very little choice in the matter. She needs to go to work (often poorly skilled, dead-end jobs) so really, the kids fend for themselves as best they can. And they also get up to all sorts ... of trouble mainly.

The father comes across as rather weak and irresponsible. He often seems to shirk his parental responsibilities, acting like a single man at times jingling money in his pocket while the family dragged themselves up as best as they could. I often wanted to give the father a good talking to. There's a very telling piece early on which gives a flavour of domestic life for the children. If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny.

Dubus's style of writing is natural and fluid. No-nonsense. Telling his story like it is without fancy frills. I really like his style. However, he does pack a lot into each and every page. He tells his reader in detail about his siblings, about their school days, about girlfriends and boyfriends etc. The word 'violence' comes up time and time again. No one in the neighbourhood seems phased at all by bloody noses, cracked ribs - and worse, much worse. And Dubus decides at some stage in his life to take things a stage further. He wants to be in charge. He doesn't want to feel constantly on guard or afraid.

The contrast between the scholarly father (living the good life on campus and with money to spend) and the rather poorer existence of his estranged wife and children - is strong. And also uncomfortable at times. And I was getting a slow and steady build-up of resentment and tension from Andre directed at his footloose-and-fancy-free father. It must have been difficult to stomach when often there was little food in the family fridge (when they eventually secured one, that is).

Dubus gives his readers plenty of mental pictures and images of the urban life. Its grittiness and unpredictability - and menace. Kids roamed the neighborhood (sic) like dogs. and ... there was the day-and night swearing and shouting of men and women fighting ... The family move home many times and everything is so tiring and often pointless - especially for the mother. She's exhausted most of the time and I felt for her, I really did. But throughout all these bad times, she still manages to look after her family. She's deserves a big, shiny medal. She came across as a terrifically stoic person who I came to admire.

This is a detailed and heartfelt account of life's ups and downs for the Dubus's - with family life at its core. Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try Intrepid Woman: Betty Lussier's Secret War, 1942-1945 by Betty Lussier.

Buy Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III at

Buy Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III at


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