Jeana's Reviews > Townie: A Memoir

Townie by Andre Dubus III
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's review
Dec 31, 11

bookshelves: non-fiction-memiors, firstreads-giveaway-books-i-won
Read from March 12 to December 30, 2011

Townie is the story of a boy and his father. This is a book I'd been avoiding reading because of its sheer volume. Aren't memoirs supposed to be short?

This memoir is very "hard." By that, I mean that it takes you into a very hard childhood, where a child is lost and unsafe and unstable. He gets beat up and threatened everywhere he turns; ignored by his father; neglected by his poor single mother who is just trying to get by. One day, as he witnesses a grown man beating up his little brother and doesn't do a thing about it--just standing there as if invisible to the world--he makes a decision. It's that instead of being the one bullied, he'd toughen himself up and fight back. And my did he fight back! At every turn, he fights. He goes looking for fights, sometimes as a way to deal with his hard life and it seems punching someone is the one way he's able to relieve his pent-up emotion and stress. He's not ignored--isn't invisible anymore--when he's punching someone with this first clean punch into the face. The fighting goes on and on and on. Much too long for me.

Then he discovers that he gets a similar satisfaction from writing. He's able to relieve his heartbreak over his broken childhood and his father who was never there for him or his brother and sisters. And his relationship with his father improves. His father respects him and while this gives Dubus III a great deal of satisfaction, he always feels like his father just doesn't quite get that he should have been more, should have done more for his children. It's heartbreaking when Dubus III takes care of his father after the accident and is more of a caretaker and "father" to him than the real father ever was. A paragraph from the memoir: "I'd drive down the hill feeling more joy than sadness. I had never grown anything before, never planted a seed and watered it till something blossomed that had been waiting there all along. At least I thought I hadn't. But I had. It was me I had built up. And I imagined that helping Pop get his strength back gave the kind of sustained creative satisfaction a gardener must feel, or a coach, or a father."

In his newfound love of writing, Dubus discovers that the only way to truly write well is to disappear or be invisible, what he had worked so hard not to be. So beautiful, really, the way this all comes together like this.

Dubus still can't quite break free of his addiction to fights and really, it's almost as if he's trying to protect the little brothers of the world by trying to make it right, even through his fighting. He does realize, though, that the fighting is just another wrong, even if he is trying to right someone else's wrong, if that makes any sense at all. It's sweet that he is trying to stick up for the underdog, most of the time, like women being hurt by men or protecting children.

The memoir doesn't go chronologically. No, instead he jumps around a lot to give it more of a "novel" build and climax. That I appreciate. Dubus can write. He's an amazing writer and it was interesting to see how he turned his hard life into something worthwhile. My one criticism is that it took so long to get into. I think the novel would have flowed a little better if they'd weeded out some of the fighting. It just got to be too much. I almost stopped reading a third of the way through, thinking this was much too "hard" for me to read, but I'm so glad I didn't.

I wept through the last 100 pages. It all became so alive and real. Maybe it's because I lost my own father not too long ago. Maybe it's the beauty of Dubus' journey. Maybe it's his prose. Not sure, but I know that it was well worth the time it took to read 400 pages.
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Reading Progress

12/20/2011 page 75
19.0% "I'm not sure how much more of this I can handle--it's really rough and not looking very hopeful at all. And I'm not even a fourth of the way through!"
12/23/2011 page 200
52.0% "I'm going to give it a little longer. At least he's leaving home now. . ."

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Jeana Yay! I won this from goodreads giveaways!

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