Summary and book reviews of Townie by Andre Dubus III

Townie

A Memoir

By Andre Dubus III

Townie
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Feb 2011,
    400 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2012,
    400 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Julie Wan

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Book Summary

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. He signed on 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.

Doing It

Summer came and now windows were open and there was Larry's yelling, there was a woman yelling back at him or somebody else in another house, there was the canned laughter and commercial jingles of six or seven TVs, there was a bottle breaking, a drunk singing, a motorcycle or lowrider revving its engine, then peeling away from the curb, there were the smells of hot asphalt, the dusty concrete of broken sidewalks, cat shit and dog shit and gasoline, there was the wood baking in the lumberyard near the Merrimack, again the faint smell of sewage and motor oil and mud, and when the wind blew in from the east you could smell the ocean, dead seaweed and open seashell and wet sand, and it was a Saturday and Jeb and I were running from Clay Whelan and George Labelle and two others I didn't even know; they'd come walking down the middle of Lime Street under the sun and seen us sitting on our stoop doing nothing.

"Get 'em!"

And we were up and running down Lime and across Water ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Although the chronology of Dubus's memoir spans his life from young childhood until 1999, Townie opens with a vignette from his adolescence, in which he goes long-distance running with his father. Why does Dubus begin his story with this particular event? What do we learn from this scene alone about Dubus's life?


  2. Although Andre's father was a writer known for the insight and empathy expressed in his fiction, he seems clueless about his children's day-to-day suffering. His mother is also largely unaware. Why?


  3. Why does the young Dubus "like" what he sees in the school fight he witnessed at the age of twelve: "I liked seeing the blood spattering across his nose and mouth and chin, and I ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

What's notable about this memoir of a troubled boy's youth and coming of age is that one might expect a harshness in the voice of someone brought up in such brutal violence, and yet, there's an elegance and restraint throughout, even in moments of searing honesty.   (Reviewed by Julie Wan).

Full Review Members Only (1196 words).

Media Reviews
The New York Times Book Review - Darcey Steinke

[P]owerful… 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 - 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... Mr. Dubus's prose is clear, supple, unshowy. He gets a lot across with a few words.

Salon - Laura Miller

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.

Booklist

Starred Review. 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.

Kirkus Reviews

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

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this gritty and gripping memoir, Dubus bares his soul in stunning and page-turning prose.

Library Journal

One of the most balanced, reflective, thoughtful books I've read to date.

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Andre Dubus

Andre DubusAndre Dubus was born in 1936 in Louisiana to a Catholic family; he studied journalism and English at McNeese State College; then spent six years in the Marine Corps, during which time he married his first wife and had his first four children, including Andre Dubus III. After leaving the Marines he studied at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. As an ex-Marine turned writer, Dubus (pronounced duh-BYOOSE) had a tough exterior and a tender heart - something he became known for in his work, which often deals with pain, tragedy, violence, and flawed characters with astonishing compassion and kindness. He wrote a few novellas and one novel, Lieutenant (1967), but was mostly devoted to the short story, a form in which he is considered one of the ...

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