Barbara's Reviews > Townie

Townie by Andre Dubus III
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's review
Feb 06, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: memoir
Read in July, 2011

The major focus of this soul-baring memoir of Andre Dubus III is in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a city bordering New Hampshire, in northeastern Massachusetts. It was a former mill town and industrial city, which in the 19th and early half of the 20th century was known as the “Queen Slipper City” because of its tanneries and shoe manufacturing. They boasted that 1/10 of the shoes made in the US were made there. It is located on the Merrimack River. I lived there for a few years and found it to be a “cultural wasteland”. The one redeeming factor was that it had a reasonable library. My presence there was during the waning years of the shoe manufacturing, prior to the Dubus Family’s arrival there.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.

Dubus’ parents divorced in the 1970's, leaving the mother to cope with 4 children and meager finances. 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.** Several of his books of short stories have impressed and even awed me. 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.


Although I have probably discussed enough about Andre Dubus III, one particular feature of his early life has remained with me. 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.

** Dancing After Hours: Stories and In the Bedroom are two sensitive books by Andre, Sr., which I read, but he wrote many more.
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Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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message 1: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· Great review Barbara!

Barbara Thank you, Karen and Teresa! I keep thinking that I should have included more, but I'll leave that for people to discover when (if) they read the book.

message 3: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· I don't know his work at all. what else have you read by him, Barbara?

Barbara I read The Garden of Last Days andHouse of Sand and Fog. The latter was a movie with Ben Kingsley and was fairly true to the book. I don't usually find screen adaptations satisfying, but I liked this. These are both strong, violent stories.

message 5: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Barbara wrote: "Thank you, Karen and Teresa! I keep thinking that I should have included more, but I'll leave that for people to discover when (if) they read the book."

I think your review is great as is. I doubt I'll read this book, but you gave a wonderful sense of it in your review.

message 6: by Barbara (last edited Jul 30, 2011 12:19PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Barbara Thanks again, Teresa. I realize that we don't all have the same taste, so I thank you for your candor.

By the way, I did add one item which I think would interest you!

message 7: by Teresa (last edited Jul 30, 2011 01:17PM) (new)

Teresa Barbara wrote: "Thanks again, Teresa. I realize that we don't all have the same taste, so I thank you for your candor.

By the way, I did add one item which I think would interest you!"

Wow, that is very interesting! Hard to believe for someone in the Boston area :) but I do think about that sometimes, how those with no or little leisure time due to where and how they grow up can 'miss' out on a lot of things we take for granted.

Barbara That is true, but his environment did not include any sports. He never threw a ball or played any games.

message 9: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Barbara wrote: "That is true, but his environment did not include any sports. He never threw a ball or played any games."

Hard to imagine, isn't it. Even disadvantaged kids who have absolutely nothing to play with seem to play games, even if it's with a stick or something they might find to use as a ball.

Barbara You are right! Dubus hardly knew baseball existed !

message 11: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Excellent review Barbara. That last bit about going to the baseball game was really poignant. It really is difficult to imagine any child almost anywhere growing up without playing. Sounds like he must have lived with the fear his entire life. Maybe he had no time to ever play.

Barbara It did not seem to be time , it was exposure and the climate of deprivation and violence where he grew up.

message 13: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely Oh B, you know the Dubus family? Wow. This one is also the author of The House of Sand and Fog? I loved that movie and so I have that book in my tbr!

Excellent review. It is always nice to read reviews of readers having personal experiences with the author or his relatives. How I wish I have one. Well, except T's book and my experience is only through cyberspace ha ha.

Just wondering, what does "cultural wasteland" mean?

Barbara I did not mean to convey the idea that I knew the Dubus family. I only lived there and I was long gone by the time they moved there.

I loved The House... movie too! It was so dark and tense, but the acting was very good. Except for the changed ending, it was fairly true to the book. I did prefer the novel, though!

message 15: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely B, oh yes. I just formed an impression in my mind while reading your review. I must be from too much reading. When I read, my imagination starts rolling immediately like a movie projector ha ha!

Barbara I certainly understand this phenomenon!

message 17: by Maria (new)

Maria All right, Barbara, now you're just showing off! Seriously -- a magnificent review.

message 18: by Barbara (last edited Aug 04, 2011 04:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Barbara Thank you, Maria. His bio was quite a revelation to me. It was also a surprise to find that he lived in and went to places where I have been.

message 19: by Vic (new) - rated it 5 stars

Vic Soul-baring is such a great term for this memoir. It is the bravest memoir I've ever read/listened to.

Barbara I agree, of course! I read this and did not hear the audio version, although I did hear Dubus on NPR. The reader must have been quite good to make such an impression on you.

Carrie Ridgeway You have summed up so well what I loved about this book. The latter chapters were particularly moving.

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