Townie: A Memoir

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Townie , Dubus III's memoir, recounts his days growing up with and without his father, becoming a fighter, and finally becoming a writer in his own right. We chose Townie for our Indiespensable book club a few years ago, and every single person in our office who read it — which was quite a few — was blown away by its beauty and honesty. It is, in a way, a study of and repudiation of male violence, and Dubus treats the subject with empathy, thoughtfulness, and care. Touching, gripping, and mesmerizing, Townie is an exceptional achievement. Recommended By Jill O. Nearby, his father, an eminent author, taught on a college campus and took the kids out on Sundays.

In this unforgettable memoir, acclaimed novelist Dubus shows us how he escaped the cycle of violence and found empathy in channeling the stories of others—bridging, in the process, the rift between his father and himself. In this gritty and gripping memoir, Dubus bares his soul in stunning and page-turning prose. Powerful, haunting. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. An acclaimed novelist reflects on his violent past and a lifestyle that threatened to destroy him - until he was saved by writing.

After their parents divorced in the s, 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 stree An acclaimed novelist reflects on his violent past and a lifestyle that threatened to destroy him - until he was saved by writing.

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. Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages. Published February 28th by W. Norton Company first published More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Townie , please sign up. What did you think of the ending? Karen I listened to this book on an MP3, most of the time while I was working in my yard.

I was there, weeding my garden when I came to the ending. I cried …more I listened to this book on an MP3, most of the time while I was working in my yard. I cried listening to it. I cried for the hell their lives had been. I think I cried, too, because they seem to have somehow emerged from their experiences stronger and closer as a family and I had hope for a better future for them all. See 1 question about Townie…. Lists with This Book.

Townie A Memoir

Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Sep 26, Andrew Smith rated it it was amazing Shelves: memoirs-biographies , non-fiction. This book tracks the life - particularly the early life - of this excellent writer through a series of roughly chronological memories and anecdotes. Brought up in tough New England towns, he tells of how he was the recipient of regular beatings from the local hard cases. This pattern continued as he moved from one run down area to the next until he decided to change things by developing his own body, through boxing and weight lifting, to enable his transformation into a street brawler feared by others.

The author's father left home for one of his many female conquests early in the life of Dubus and the relationship between father and son is a strong thread throughout. The journey from fighter to manual worker, whilst flitting in and out of education, to his development into an award winning writer is documented with ruthless and uncompromising honesty. It's an inspiring and truly uplifting tale - I loved it. View all 12 comments. Mar 01, Bonnie rated it did not like it Shelves: books , auto-biographies-and-memoirs.

His memoir got good buzz, though, so I decided to give it a try. Let's just say that I don't plan to read any of his fictional books, ever.


  1. Townie: A Memoir.
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I feel bad for Dubus. With the exception of his younger sister, Dubus' siblings were adrift and had pro I have never read any of Dubus' books, because back when he was popular I Didn't Do Tragic. With the exception of his younger sister, Dubus' siblings were adrift and had problems with drugs. His naturally small size made him a bully-magnet in the rough neighborhoods he grew up in after his parents' divorce. And despite all that he was able to make something of himself and not die young and violently like so many he knew.

That doesn't mean I like his memoir, though. It commits the cardinal sin of books: it was boring. Horribly, horribly boring. Not that his life wasn't compelling. Growing up in the bad part of town led to some craziness and horror and childhood especially one with so many siblings is natural fodder. But Dubus' writing style made everything that should have been interesting incredibly ponderous, dull and choppy.

It's even more surprising given the fact that there were so many fights that took place Dubus bulked himself up as a teen and had a short-fuse and a childhood surrounded by violence But the fights were semi-random and I could never understand nor bring myself to care how they started or who they were with. There were so many people drifting in and out with no real sense of who they were that I stopped bothering to keep track.


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  • Even his own siblings never come into focus. There are giant holes in the timeline. The middle school art teacher who is sleeping with Dubus' brother Jeb while Jeb was her student! Dubus is suddenly a parole officer or something…! Dubus is suddenly married! Dubus decided to go to college despite being a punk who according to the narrative had little interest in school! Also, I hated Andre Dubus senior more than I hated any other villain I've read about this year and I've read some dark stuff. Maybe he wasn't supposed to be a villain, but I feel like he was one and I found him incredibly despicable.

    I probably hate him more knowing that he was real, while the other villains I've read about recently were fictional. Dubus senior was a horrible, horrible man with few redeeming qualities. He was the worst father someone could be short of being actually abusive. He was a drunk, a man-child, a cheater. He was neglectful of those he should have loved and cared for and almost pathologically selfish.

    I wish he was fictional. In the end, Dubus managed to reveal everything without revealing anything. He writes about painful parts of his youth that I think are brave to reveal but never gets close enough to give the reader a sense of anything. I hate to say it about a professional author, but I wish someone else had written his life story. View all 24 comments. Bob Moore Thanks for your review Bonnie, sorry I'm just seeing thisnow. It's been awhile since I read the book.

    It was given to me as a gift. I actually liked t Thanks for your review Bonnie, sorry I'm just seeing thisnow. I actually liked the book, I had to put it down from time to time because of the violence and it was pretty graphic. But even though it seemed very rough in terms of his dealings in school and out of school where his dad was pretty much absent, I think he came to visit on Sundays or every other Sunday , his anger based on the absence of his dad seemed to be channeled in a kind of vigilante approach to coming to the rescue of folks he didn't even know.

    He's lucky he didn't get himself killed. What I like about his writing is when he described a barroom or restaurant or where ever a scene was about to take place, his description appealed to almost all of the five senses visuals, color, taste, smell, sound, etc. His description of the place where an event was about to unfold was uncanny.

    I was really dumbfounded how he could remember all of these aspects when he was a teenager since a few decades I'm sure had lapsed when he began to write his memoir. It was also interesting to see that he stumbled across a passage in the Bible to "Love your Neighbor". It seemed at this point in the book, he began to see that his violent ways were going to do him in, and that getting away from these types of tactics was a change for him, a sign of maturity, and probably permitted him to live into his later years. I was also interested when I learned that his father had been hit on route 95 while helping a person in need off the highway and as a result became paralyzed, and while his father was laying on the highway waiting for emergency help his mother appeared to him in a dream and spoke to him as though she knew his next ten years or so were going to be difficult but to reassure him that life was going to be doable.

    For me the book though violent showed Dubus as a vulnerable kid and turned to violence to cope with what he saw as terrible wrongs his sister being molested , his father leaving the family, and yet somehow managing in a kind of school of hard knocks. Anyway, I would recommend the book, but that's just my humble opinion. Best wishes, Bob Rachel Winter So I am so glad you wrote this review. So choppy and hard to follow Sep 19, AM.

    Feb 06, Barbara rated it really liked it Shelves: memoir.

    Questions?

    It is located on the Merrimack River. I lived there for a few years and found it to be a The major focus of this soul-baring memoir of Andre Dubus III is in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a city bordering New Hampshire, in northeastern Massachusetts. The one redeeming factor was that it had a reasonable library. Most of the surroundings had not yet become as described in his account. The history of this area plays a major role in the status of the city and in Andre's development.

    His mother was hardworking, never able to keep up with the bills, cooking, laundry, or actual care of her children. Following the divorce, their father maintained sporadic contact with them and tried to help financially, but had his own difficulties. His relationship with his children was superficial, with occasional glimmers of interest. Life for these youngsters was difficult, filled with violence, drugs, roaming the crime riddled streets without supervision day and night. The city had truly become a wasteland, with vacant lots, boarded up factories and stores and homes crumbling.

    It was in this climate that Dubus grew up, filled with rage inspired by fear. He frequently experienced feelings of emptiness and absence. His solution was to become more -stronger, better physically developed, able to conquer even the toughest boys. As he grew older, he often realized that his near compulsion to do body building was so that noone would hurt him, or those he loved.

    There are many features of this memoir worth sharing, but it would be best to read it in context. Dubus' writing is riveting and straightforward. Without adornment he has conveyed the smells, the sounds and the visual assaults for the reader. It was also a pleasure learning more about his father, a talented, revered author in his own right. Viewing the development of the relationship of father and son as the narrative progressed was compelling.

    It was complex, yet touching to observe the difficult transition of the young, hardened boy to the accomplished man he became. I have admired and respected Dubus' writing and can now see the roots of the difficulties his characters in his books experience. Reading this memoir was often unsettling and sometimes tedious, reviewing his many fights and brutal encounters. It has given me a different view of violence and the confrontations faced by the perpetrators.

    I think about the courage that it took him to write this book, to bare his soul, to reveal his emotions and the ability to finally and carefully subdue that violent, needy child inside of himself. The idea of how much his childhood lacked is demonstrated when he attended his first baseball game at age 19! He was amazed that grown men were playing a game and thousands were at Fenway Park watching them! He had no concept of sports and games at all. His friend had to explain the most basic rudiments to him. View all 21 comments. This is a rough book.

    It is about violence in all its forms, except war and genocide. Violence on a personal level. If swear words and rape and drugs are going to put you off, well then maybe this isn't a book for you. But read on. It is also about a dysfunctional family. I don't like dysfunctional family stories, or that is what I thought! But hey there is an exception to every rule.

    Maybe I so very much liked it because it is no story; it is autobiographical! I also know that I liked it becaus This is a rough book. I also know that I liked it because of the writing. Andre Dubus III, can write. A good author can write about any topic and this is a good author. Excellent writing. Descriptive so you see and feel the atmosphere and tension of the scene. He describes the accouterments of a bar, a bloody body after a fight, and even some humor is thrown in. It is said, "In one of those games with a ball in it Absolutely no ball games! How could he?

    His single mother worked; his father saw him so infrequently that he simply was never there. Poor; he was lucky if he had a pair of shoes. Dialogs are pitch-perfect. The writing is about rough situations but each word is absolutely perfect. I feel I better understand why someone would turn to violence. The author turned to violence to protect himself and his family, and then that violence took over, and where would it ever end?

    That is the question he comes to. That is the question that the reader looks at. That is the central question of the book, but you do not accuse and you understand and you do not merely place blame. The book is all about family relationships. Jeez, what we do to each other! The reason why this book is so good is that even if you are not a violent person yourself, you understand why one could become violent and you stop accusing and blaming and looking down on those who have taken that misstep.

    And where does it end? In more violence? In death? But you know he is now a writer so read on. The audiobook is narrated by the author himself. It couldn't have been better. He is telling you how he felt. You feel his sorrow and anger, confusion and questions.

    He is telling his story, and no one else should tell his story but him. I shouldn't have liked this book, but I certainly did. Good book.

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    Very, very good book. Definitely deserves four stars. View all 10 comments. Feb 01, Elge rated it really liked it. I totally agree with Dwight Garner of the New York Times when he writes of this book, "Townie is a better, harder book than anything Dubus III has yet writer; it pays off on every bet that's been placed on him. A sleek muscle car of a memoir.

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    As a kid he was a victim of it. This part of the book was hard to read and I almost bailed out on the book because I wanted him to stop being a victim and stand up for hims I totally agree with Dwight Garner of the New York Times when he writes of this book, "Townie is a better, harder book than anything Dubus III has yet writer; it pays off on every bet that's been placed on him. This part of the book was hard to read and I almost bailed out on the book because I wanted him to stop being a victim and stand up for himself.

    Then he does and the book really takes off. He becomes a tough guy with a reputation. He's "strong" and people are afraid of him which gives him power he's never had. But then he starts to see how violence is ruining his life and his relationships. To me, the most fascinating part of the book is how he works through and matures out of the need for violence as a way to create a sense of self.

    I think this would be great book to read in a high school literature class. I'd love to know what adolescents have to say about it.

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    Feb 04, Neil White rated it really liked it. Dubus's novels are difficult to read without getting worked up into a frenzy that involves symptoms not unlike severe stress or paranoia.

    KIRKUS REVIEW

    At least for me, anyway. Shortness of breath, increased heart rate, even sweats - these things happen. His memoir does not include the same scenes of riveting tension and personal anguish that populate his other works, but I found myself still getting worked up reading this - especially the early scenes of his torment as a young child.

    A skinny kid, raised by a Dubus's novels are difficult to read without getting worked up into a frenzy that involves symptoms not unlike severe stress or paranoia. A skinny kid, raised by a single mother, growing up in some of the roughest neighborhoods Massachusetts has to offer, tormented by bullies every day - Dubus eventually learned to fight back. He learned how to fight back a little too well, and in the process discovered he had quite a bit of rage in him. Read through and it's easy to understand why. At it's beginning this is in some ways a typical growing-up-rough memoir - the poverty, the bullying, the almost religious weight training until he doesn't get picked on very much all that's missing is a montage song, really , but it's carried along by Dubus's sincere engaging prose that keeps it from being anything but standard or boring.

    He doesn't stop there, though. Because this memoir carries him through to adulthood, and because he doesn't pull any punches on himself or his victims [sorry] , we have his inner turmoil with what all this anger and violence does when it transforms into guilt. I was surprised pleasantly so when this became as much a meditation on violence and its consequences not only on the body, but the soul , as a chronicle of boyhood.

    But while that's a large portion of the book, Dubus's relationship with his father was, at least for me, the most rewarding and touching part. I was interested to find out it was hardly simple enough to boil down to any one adjective. Dubus Sr left little Andre's mother when he was young, but there was some continued interaction. The elder Andre seemed like a difficult man, sometimes quiet, but often passionate and loud. Thankfully he was not abusive, but his absence on a day-to-day level no doubt had an impact.

    I think the young, skinny, frightened Andre could have used a strong, supportive, 'manly' father figure in his life. Instead he had a distant stranger who obviously loved them, but struggled with expressing that. This is beautifully expressed in the opening pages of the book, where young Andre, desperate from some one-on-one time with his father, agrees to go on a weekend run with him. The problem is he has no good shoes, and having never seriously run before, has no idea the lengths his father intends to go. He never complains, though, and finishes the run. If you're unfamiliar with either Dubus's work, I might suggest reading some first, not only because both of them could easily be included in any discussion of America's finest contemporary writers, but also to perhaps get a sense of the characters in this story.

    This memoir is a fantastic read on many levels - a coming-of-age in rough circumstances tale, a meditation on the nature of violence, a story of father and son - but a knowledge of their work, and the glimpse into their personalities it provides, would definitely make this excellent book a richer experience. Andre Dubus III has a way with words that's difficult to pinpoint. Reading this, it's easy to see where he gets it. View 1 comment. Mar 30, Karen rated it liked it. Like most of my books, I read this on my ipad and kindle. Do editors still exist? The idea of a memoir is not only to render a life but also to understand it.

    I persevered to the end and when it was clear to even this disaffected reader that the fight went out of him just as his father became incapacitated, the writer didn't seem to get the connection. There are passages of great tenderness and mercy here, but they feel somehow unearned and unexamined.

    Although there are some lyrical passages in this book, it does not nearly measure up to The House of Sand and Fog--a book I loved and treasured both for its lyricism and the exploration of motive and personality. I am sure there is an equally good book somewhere in Townie, it just wasn't birthed properly. Jul 25, Dean rated it did not like it Shelves: biography. I got two thirds of the way through this book and I surrended. If this was fiction, I would say that the main character is a damaged and flawed person with serious anger issues.

    Sadly, it is a biography and I just cannot care about a man who in his mid twenties needs to run around a town looking to beat up people for what he thinks are insults. Or looking for insults so he can get into a fight. No signs of redemption, although, since he wrote some good books later on one can assume he figures ou I got two thirds of the way through this book and I surrended. No signs of redemption, although, since he wrote some good books later on one can assume he figures out that life is more than late night bar room brawls.

    But I think I would be embarraassed to have lead this life, much less write it up and publish it. I am embarrassed to have kept reading for as long as I did thinking that at some point he would become interesting. View all 3 comments. Feb 17, Elizabeth Alaska rated it really liked it Shelves: twenty-first-century , memoirs. Maybe you knew that already, but I had to look it up, because it was driving me nuts not to know for certain. Years ago, I read his House of Sand and Fog , and although I can't remember most of it, I do remember that I loved the prose, and that it was a very moving story.

    At the time I read it, I wasn't writing reviews or even notes for myself, but I expect the characterizations were pretty good and that is another reason I remember liking it, that I remember it at all. So, when I saw another book by him at my local library book sale, I was happy to pick it up. At that sale, I hardly even look at what the book is about if it is an author I want to read - why spend that time when paperbacks are only 50 cents?

    I like author biographies and autobiographies. I like learning about the people who are able to give me reading pleasure. Andre Dubus III had a very hard childhood. His parents divorced when he was 10, he and his 3 siblings raised by his now single mother. She didn't have the skills to have great earning power, and although she did get some child support, money was scarce. Andre remembers being always hungry, and the neighborhoods they lived in were filled with drugs and bullies. Andre is open about his feelings during this time, how he felt so inadequate.

    This is hard reading, though, of course, I knew it all came right because I'd read one of his books and had another open in front of me. It took him awhile to get "right", though, even after he turned to writing. Years later I would read this definition of sincerity in Nadine Gordimer's novel A Son's Story : "Sincerity is never having an idea of oneself.

    But what did being seen have to do with writing well? I sat at the desk feeling small and self-absorbed and with little ability to do this one thing I felt pulled to do. But this negative self-scrutiny was just another form of insincerity; I had to disappear altogether. It seemed as if the first part of this memoir was as difficult to write as it was to read. And then the part that follows the above paragraph came more easily, when he writes more about his relationship with his writer father.

    This is quite good, though maybe not 5-stars good. I want to read more writing by both Andre Dubuses. View 2 comments. Jul 15, Karen rated it it was ok Shelves: adandoned. It was like getting a tooth drilled or being hit over the head by the same damn bat.

    Book Review - Townie - By Andre Dubus III - The New York Times

    I'll pass on this one- thank you very much. The same scenes repeated endlessly. Hopelessness, cruelty, fear and abandonment abound in this book. It's a bleak tale and a place I choose not to visit any longer than reading the 67 pages I spent there. I've believed Dubus to be brilliant based on "House of Sand and Fog" but the writing in this book is meandering, inconclusive and confusing.

    Often I would read a sente It was like getting a tooth drilled or being hit over the head by the same damn bat. Often I would read a sentence and feel like I had just read that same sentence, after looking back through the pages, I would indeed find the same sentence slightly altered in chapters prior.

    I also think my distaste for violence, competition and urban environments totally jaded my viewpoint of this book. I love stories that tell of the capacity of humans to endure and overcome adversity but in these types of stories there is usually an inner light within the protagonist and glimmer of hope, feelings of repentance or desire. Dubus tells a tale of desiring only to escape, get high and return the violence to those who bullied him. He writes as if detached and distant from the young man in the story.

    Another Good Read reviewer stated it beautifully "The focus for most of the book is on his horrible childhood and how weightlifting and fighting street fighting, not boxing gave him confidence. It's the sort of testosterone-heavy story that I usually avoid at all costs. I really could have used an adult perspective throughout the book—most of the time it's so claustrophobically inside his own adolescent head that it seems his adult self continues to think this way.

    Even when he has an "epiphany" towards the end, it comes off as ridiculous and makes me wonder if he ever actually grew up. Worse, the writing is awkward, meandering, and repetitive. It jumps back and forth through time for no reason except that it was badly edited. If this is the story that's been fighting to get out all this time, I'd think he'd spend a little more effort making it as good as his fiction. Jun 30, Barbara rated it liked it. It's eight o' clock on the last night of June. The grand children are in bed, and this is when I usually open up my book and read for the evening.

    The problem is that I finished "Townie" last night, and now I am achingly homesick for Haverhill. This is rather ridiculous, since 1 I have never been to Haverhill and 2 the town and the life that Dubus portrays, at great length and with much repetition, are as gritty, as violent, as unappealing as anyplace that one might imagine. This was hel Wow. This was hell, pure and simple, for a family of four whose father splits to lead an independent life as a writer and bon vivant.

    And, like hell, it never seemed to end.. And yet, and yet, after chapter upon chapter of fights, drugs. Something magical breaks through the bleakness, and the last one hundred pages are simply gorgeous. They shine and glimmer with redemption, love and luminous writing. I almost signed off on this book every night this week. I am terribly glad that I did not. Thank you, Grandma Ida, for setting the example of always finishing a book. You always said, "I owe it to the writer. May 05, Jessica Keener rated it it was amazing. One of the best memoirs I've read. I loved it for the forgiveness he came to, for the honesty he brought to the issue of fighting and violence and the impulse to fight and the transformation that happened to him as he faced the emptiness of violence and the shame of it.

    I loved how he addressed violence and really parsed it out for all the things that it signifies for peoplethe glorification of it, the defense of it, the vulnerability behind it, the mask of it. That's just some of what I love One of the best memoirs I've read. That's just some of what I loved about his story. And, I loved his writing. Many many sentences that resonated for me about writing, about life, family, love, and self. Apr 08, Janessa rated it it was amazing Shelves: memoir. I'm still sorting through my reading experience, but these are the words that come to mind: courageous, honest, transformative, redemptive.

    In the book Dubus tells of his childhood in the blue-collar mill towns of Massachusetts, growing up in a single-parent home with three siblings. His family barely scraped by on his mom's meager wages as a social worker and the child support they received from his dad, a writer and professor at a nearby college. The neighborhoods they lived in were full of violence - drugs, alcoholism, bullying, theft and abuse.

    Everyday was dangerous, and Dubus did his best to hide from it until his younger brother was beaten bloody in front of their house and all Dubus could do was stand and watch. Dubus writes of the pivotal moment following this scene, where he faces himself in his bathroom mirror. I stood in front of the sink and the mirror. I was almost suprised to see someone standing there. This kid with a smooth face and not one whisker, this kid with long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, this kid with narrow shoulders and soft arm and chest muscles and no balls.

    This kid had no balls.

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