Bonnie's Reviews > Townie

Townie by Andre Dubus III
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's review
Mar 01, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: 2011-books, auto-biographies-and-memoirs
Read in May, 2011

I have never read any of Dubus' books, because back when he was popular I Didn't Do Tragic. 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.

I feel bad for Dubus. He got a raw deal, with a father who couldn’t be bothered to spend time with his children and a mom who was too busy and exhausted to pay adequate attention to them. 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...there were a lot of bar/street fights).But the fights were semi-random and I could never understand nor bring myself to care how they started or who they were with. Truthfully, it mostly seemed that Dubus just attacked people whenever they stepped out of line or he was feeling upset, so there wasn’t really any rhyme or reason to begin with and his writing style just muddled things.

The book was mostly chronological but sometimes wasn’t, which was confusing. There were so many people drifting in and out with no real sense of who they were that I stopped bothering to keep track. Even his own siblings never come into focus. There’s a vague sense of them: Jeb is the artsy, suicidal one; Suzanne is the classic Little Girl Lost, using drugs and sex to fill the void created by daddy issues; Nicole is the studious one, hiding in her room from the broken world and dysfunctional family she’s trapped in. But that’s just the surface and I can tell you nothing more about any of them, especially Nicole who I was most interested in (she seemed the most together of them all and I’m curious how she did it). There are giant holes in the timeline. Dubus is interested in a Persian girl and then suddenly he’s moved to Texas and no mention is made of how their relationship ended. The middle school art teacher who is sleeping with Dubus' brother Jeb (while Jeb was her student!) randomly appears and just as suddenly she’s gone from the narrative. 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! WHAT WAS GOING ON?!?

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 chronic philanderer who couldn’t stop himself—and truthfully, likely never tried—from screwing his students even when he was married. 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. And this is even through Andre Junior’s vaguely sympathetic (though hurt) lense! Some people like senior’s writing (I will bet you I would find it boring and pretentious) and he was apparently charming and willing to help strangers, so I’ll give him that. So I guess he had some redeeming qualities, but I still find him one of the most miserable people I’ve read about this year. 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.
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03/13/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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Rachel Your review was spot on - I completely agree!

Bonnie Thanks!

Bonnie Urgh, I should hunt down his stuff, then. I have never personally hated an author before I started reading his work (though sometimes I develop a hatred while reading...), so that will be an interesting experience.

message 4: by Jeb (new)

Jeb Dubus I wouldn't have written the same book that my brother did. But it's HIS book. To me, when all is added up My father was a GREAT writer, An intensely talented inspiring teacher, a nurturing father intellectually, artistically/culturally, and spiritually. But Yeah and it's true he wasn't around as much as we would have wanted and he didn't have what it took to save us from unnecessary sufferring but no one is perfect. I grew up not watching a man sell houses or insurance or doing business. I had yhe wondrous experience of seeing a man go into a room and close the door and in silence work to try and express what it is like to be alive!

Bonnie Thanks for commenting on my review, Jeb. My impression of your dad is 100% based on the book in which he did not come off well and which may not be an accurate reflection of him. I'm glad that you have such warm memories of your father.

message 6: by Jeb (new)

Jeb Dubus Thanks Bonnie! The truth is it took me a while, like most kids to be grateful for the gifts he gave and truly understand and forgive his faults.
I'm glad I did! It would have been miserable to put him in the ground angry!
I don't mind at all if people are mad when they hear about his faults. I am not though and forgiving him gave me a more even look at everyone.
Thanks again Bonnie. Hey! Don't hold back if you read my writing. Aristotle said, "The truth is enough"

message 7: by Jeb (new)

Jeb Dubus yeah Julie "Killings" is great. I remember when my father wrote it: he had read a news paper article about a cop who had killed a boy and was exonerated. And my father wondered what it would be like as a parent to see him around town or worse at the grocery store! but that wasn't enough for him. When he realized revenge would come to mind for a parent,homicide, he wanted to explore in this plot the morality of two kinds of killing. but in the story it couldn't be a cop. he had to make the two killings be more black and white. typical Dubus writing. I like "A father's story" and "the fat girl" and so many others. I recommend "The selected stories" a collection. thanks Julie

Carolyn what books do you read? I sooo did not find this book boring by any means!

Carolyn Hey! AND I love the siblings' insights!

Jennifer I guess it just shows how no book is for all people. This book sucked me in for three days. My fourteen year old daughter started reading it over my shoulder on the train and now she is hooked. I think it is an excellent memoir in the vein of Mary Karr's The Liar's Club and Cherry, or Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life. It isn't the action that is that compelling, although I didn't find the story boring at all, but the way Dubus explains the formation of a violent personality. For the first time I feel like I can sort of understand the violence of some men.

message 11: by Jeb (new)

Jeb Dubus Nice! The night after my father was buried Toby Wolff, andre and I drove to my father's grave. It was very cold and so dark we could only see each other and my father's large black granite head stone. We stood at at his grave that andre and I had dug by hand. Andre had laid in the bottom of it looking up at the earthen walls and a rectangular window of blue sky while I collected rocks to keep from the bottom of it. Andre Toby and I shared a bottle of bourbon which seemed to warm us a bit and told stories about my father. I hadn't read toby's books until after that and was drawn into these honest compelling painful accounts. Later I saw the movie "this boy's life" which maintained the edge of the book. At the grave I'm sure we were drunk but felt sober in the cold sharing unedited stories of fatherhood and being a son. The earth earth where we stood was uneven and almost frozen, recently worked to cover my father. Thank you for seeing Andres book in the same vein as Toby wolffs. I hadn't thought of it til I read your comments. I agree. They will make it into a movie and it will be filmed on location in Haverhill ma. Who the heck are they goin to get to play my character!!!??? Can't picture it. Anyway thanks for your comments. It took andre 5 years to write and he edited 1000s of pages to get that book. He thought he was going to write a short essay on why my father loved baseball so much but andre and I knew nothing about the game. It took him into this autobiography.

Jennifer There is a lot of debate about the veracity of the memoir form. How can a memoirist remember what was said twenty years ago, etc. I heard Tobias Wolff being questioned about the controversies relating to recent memoirs such as A Million Little Pieces by James Frey by Bob Edwards (I think) on NPR. He said something to the effect of (because I dare not quote him), that in his opinion a memoir is honest if it relates the truth as it seemed to the author as the author lived it. In other words, there is only truth as an individual sees it, a truly objective truth is impossible to pin down. (He was not defending James Frey, btw.)

It must have been difficult for your brother to write this memoir. He writes so beautifully about the need to take himself and his ego out of his writing, to write a story without injecting himself into it. That can't be done in a memoir, of course, but I still seemed to sense his struggle to be true to what happened, honest about his feelings, and yet fair to everyone involved. I felt like he was making an effort to write about himself almost as if it was not himself he were writing about.

Anyway, I am a fan.

message 13: by Jeb (new)

Jeb Dubus I agree with every thing you said but I think I'm even more critical of the memoir form! I just don't think in general unless your on death row and need to make complete amends or in a confessional would any one dare to tell their complete truth, their interior truth. That only they and god know! I think most would hold back as much as possible to avoid being accused or regected! I don't know! Flattery O'conner, Poe, Chekov and Dostoevsky come close to writing about how wretched people can be but a I don't really sense a true intimacy with any auto biography I've read. The most self serving and blah although still interesting are E.B.White's, Sydney Poitier's, and bill Cosby's, void of ANYTHING that would make one cringe.
I would like to read a completely raw autobiography that when reading it it is obvious there has been NO authorial self protective or self-serving account. However your right in general they are a personal account that has a useful level of truth expressed. I would be to frightened to right a 100% completely "confessional" auto biography. But how ate we to know what our humanity is unless we are allowed or able to measure it against the deepest human truth? What do you think???

message 14: by RB (new) - rated it 2 stars

RB Love wow. this is wildly post-modern, memoir penetrating stuff to have a character from the memoir i just read involved in a conversation/posting of a pretty scathing review of said memoir. cool that you're in here, Mr. Dubus.

message 15: by BarbaraNathalie (last edited Apr 05, 2012 10:33AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

BarbaraNathalie I'm a little more than half way through this book, and it grabbed me from the start. I do wonder how the author can remember such detail, but I suspect that as he started writing, memories would come to him that he thought were lost. I also think there would have to be enormous research about the music, etc. that is so intimately woven into the story. I know there are people who can remember when every song came out in their lifetime, which always amazes me.

I am still thinking about why I, as a female, dove into all that fighting. I lift weights and I know how improving yourself physically has such a powerful effect on one's self picture; I think I can relate to the fighting because I see these acts as working through his search for himself. I know he doesn't write details about his siblings, but after all, he's telling his life not theirs. What grips me so, is that in spite of everything, they were all able to rise out of the existence they were thrown into as young children. No child has control over what happens to him/her, and to see real growth in a terrifyingly limited world is a masterpiece in itself.

Dana Renee I feel ya on this one Bonnie. I'm having a hard time finishing it. You should try "House of Sand & Fog" the same author - it's awesome!

Mercedes O'neill I'm having a hard time seeing how anyone could feel the way you feel about this book. It's amazing to me and really shows how different people and their opinions can be. I have officially moved this book up into my top 3 books of all time. I find his writing to be beautiful and engaging, and everyone I've recommended the book to has fallen in love with it as well. Perhaps it helps to be from New England? I find Both Dubus senior and ADIII writings to be very strongly oriented in NE and I love that about them. I also felt differently about the way he writes his father. It's easy to think that he was a horrible man, but I saw so many other details and emotions layered in ADIII writing's that I found myself caring for him. I even looked into his short stories and fell in love with those as well. Anyway, just thought I'd say that!

Zipporah Bonnie, I agree with your feelings about this particular book, but I wouldn't give up on Andre Dubos III. I truly loved The House of Sand and Fog, which is why I picked this up. However, the memoir just isn't speaking to me. I'm a little over halfway through and currently deciding whether or not to abandon it this late in the game. I see that Dana above me had a similar opinion!

Dana Renee =/ I ended up not finishing Townie. It just REALLY dragged for me.

Zipporah I actually ended up finishing it as well for some reason. I skimmed the last chapter. I'm happy to move on.

message 21: by Bob (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob Moore Hi Bonnie, I was particularly intrigued by this book because of the location I guess. Haverhill, MA is just about 15 minutes from where we live here in New Hampshire. I like his father's writing, and wanted to know more about the author and his relationship with his father. I agree that the violence scenes were tough to get through (had to put it down from time to time) but I enjoyed the epiphany moment on the train ride in the U.K. when he was supervising some girls and was confronted by a drug dealer. Instead of resorting to violence, he tried diplomacy instead, and he began to shed his insecurity about himself and the prejudgment of others. The book, as far as I'm concerned, is a eye-opening narrative about the roots of violence in our culture, why kids choose violence as a way to conduct their lives, and how one can make healthier choices (if one survives the violent behavior). I took it as an honest account of growing up without a dad as a mentor.

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