Review of Townie
Why does one person rise above the mess of life, when so many others don’t? That’s a question I kept asking myself as I read “Townie” the memoir by Andre Dubus III. “Townie” is a gritty, violent, visceral lament of the life Dubus endured while growing up in some of the most depressed areas of Massachusetts. Surrounded by drugs, guns and pathos, Dubus grew up deeply immersed in a lifestyle that brought down many of those around him.
Abandoned by his father, Dubus and his three siblings were raised by his hardworking and exhausted mother. Small, afraid, and bullied, Dubus felt disgusted for not being able to protect himself and his family from the many dangers lurking in their dark world. One day when he was 13, he watched helplessly as his brother Jeb was beaten. His reaction was to build himself up beginning with pushups ,situps and and then weights. He proceeded to transcend his predicament by sculpting his body into a fighting machine – eventually even becoming a boxer with a boxer’s killer instinct.
Meanwhile across town, his father, the famous writer Andre Dubus, taught college and surrounded himself with academia, second and third wives and more children. To young Dubus, it seemed like a totally different universe. His father showed up once a week to take them out for dinner oblivious to the world of pain that his children inhabited. One time, he picked up young Dubus to go running with him. He had no athletic shoes and so ended up running in his sister’s that were two sizes too small. Rather than tell his father that his feet hurt, he ran miles in agony and pain. Later, when he was finally able to pull off the shoes, he found his feet raw, swollen and bleeding but to him it was worth it.
But somehow Dubus could sense a different world where violence might not be the answer. He went to college, made new friends not involved with the dark side, and worked hard to understand his true nature. Over time, Dubus eventually discovered writing as a way to channel his anger and pent-up rage. After completing a short story he says, “I felt more like me than I ever had, as if the years I’d lived so far had formed layers of skin and muscle over myself that others saw as me when the real one had been underneath all along, and writing — even writing badly — had peeled away those layers, and I knew then that if I wanted to stay this awake and alive, if I wanted to stay me, I would have to keep writing.”
I loved “Townie” so much I had to wait a week before I thought I could write a review that was more than just a gut reaction, but it turns out a week wasn’t long enough. It grabbed me! I can’t remember the last time a book made me cry but this one had me choking back tears. His vulnerability, muscular prose and storytelling skills will make this an American classic. I cheered as Dubus gained traction on a better life. His rise from anguish to his eventual redemption will have you standing up and rooting for him, too.