Townie by Andre Dubus III
Published by: W. W. Norton & Company
Published on: February 28, 2011
Page Count: 400
My Reading Format: Audiobook sent to me by Blackstone Audio for consideration
Audiobook Published by: Blackstone Audio
Narrator: Andre Dubus III
Audiobook Length: 14 hours 34 minutes
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook and audiobook (paperback scheduled for release on February 6, 2012)
Today, Andre Dubus III is a sucessful novelist and a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Despite being the son of writer Andre Dubus, his life didn’t lead him to this path directly or easily. After his parent’s divorce, Andre and his three siblings grew up with their mother in a poor neighborhood in neighborhoods around the Merrimack River. Their father paid what he could in child support, but he was not present in his children’s lives. The four Dubus children had to find their own way to survive poverty and the daily threat of violence. As an adult, father and son grow closer, but the pride his father has for him feels shallow because the senior Dubus knew nothing of the events that brought him to that place. Townie explores the childhood stories Dubus’ father never saw.
I have long admired Andre Dubus III. During graduate school many of my fellow students and friends raved about him. I read several articles about him and even purchased a copy of The House of Sand and Fog. For whatever reason, I wasn’t able to get to it. Then, the result of Stephen King’s raves about The Garden of Last Days in Entertainment Weekly,w I picked that up as well. It got lost in the mix with my review books. Dubus was brought back to mind when I read about his memoir and heard about the production of the audiobook. I knew I had to get started. Townie was a perfect place to start.
Townie was in turns heartbreaking, edgy and inspirational. The three eldest Dubus children used the freedom of growing up in the home of a single parent by experimenting with drugs. In fact, Suzanne helped to feed her siblings with the money she earned selling pot. Outside of the home lingered other dangers. The neighborhoods in which they grew up was filled with other kids who thrived on physical violence. He would regularly take beatings. His day-to-day life clashed drastically with the Sunday visits with his father, where they would attend Mass. He desperately wanted to tell his dad what his life really was like, especially at those times when his father discovers that he has never been exposed to typical childhood pursuits like sports. When he gets to a point where he’s tired of being scared in his own neighborhood, he vows to do what it takes to be able to hit first and hit hard. His life takes a dramatically different direction and not one that seemingly leads to becoming an author. Yet, as he hones his body into that of a fighter, he never loses his longing for something more.
When the audiobook began, I wasn’t sure if Andre Dubus’ reading style was going to gel with me. I was glad that I was interested in what he was saying because otherwise I wasn’t certain I would finish the book. Over the course of the first few chapters, that changed. His voice and his cadence evoked the environment in which he grew up. It began to feel as though I wasn’t driving to and from work or sitting on the couch crocheting. I was nursing a beer at a local bar while first a stranger and then a friend told me his life story. The pride, the fear, the guilt, the confusion and the coming to terms were laid before me naked to take in and process. This story, which began tentatively, became a precious gift.
Andre Dubus III’s story is an American story. His journey through poverty, growing up in a broken home, violence, education, Marxism and contented happiness may not seem much like an American dream, but it is. Dubus took the cards he was dealt and forced himself to make the most of it. Without guidance or supervision, he made his body and will strong without neglecting the morality he pieced together along the way. So many people fill in “I am X because my parents (fill in the blank)” with all sorts of unfortunate realities. Dubus ultimately chose to fill it in with “an author and a loving husband and father.” To be able to look back, let the blame pass away and continued to love and respect those who could have and should have done better by him was an inspiration.