John McNeilly's Reviews > Townie

Townie by Andre Dubus III
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's review
Mar 07, 2011

really liked it

I know the difficulty of a father suddenly abandoning a household. The loss of the male figure, so associated with protection and security, the resulting personal guilt and confusion, and the wreckage left for surviving family members to pick through, can have a devastating long-term impact.

"Townie" was therefore an inevitable book for me to devour. And I did.

Andre Dubus III details his personal journey from child to man to pick up the shattered pieces of his famous writer father's abandonment. His unexpected departure results in the family's constant poverty, restless moving about, filthy apartments in dangerous neighborhoods, violence, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, and seeming utter hopelessness on Boston's meanest streets. Dubus ultimately learns to punch his way out of the despair, focusing his anger and fear into steely muscles, disciplined fitness, and a willingness to fight any enemy, any time at any cost.

Along the way one of his sisters is brutally raped, another locks herself into her room, his brother attempts suicide, and all the while his mother tries to do the best she can.

As the boy develops into a man, and as he moves toward a reaproachment with his pathologically self-absorbed old man, Dubus comes to realize that his trigger temper and willingness to fight bad guys--punching through the membrane of others' existence (as he puts it)--also costs him his humanity. For, although his fighting skills earn him self-confidence, a sense of worth, and his father's hard-won admiration, in the end he's still pounding the face of someone who is a father, son, husband or brother.

As he seeks to anchor his own confused identity, he discovers quite by accident his own affinity for writing (despite being the son of an accomplished writer, it oddly never occurs to Dubus to consider it an occupation until he actually starts writing himself). Dubus achieves success, financial security, raises a family, and buries his beloved father alongside with his desire to inflict violence on others, no matter how deserving they might be. The cost to himself outweighs any sense of righteousness or revenge.
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