Townie by Andre Dubus III
W.W. Norton • $25.95 • ISBN 9780393064667
February 28, 2011
Set in a depressed Massachusetts town, Andre Dubus III's memoir is tough and poignant and hard to read. This is a world where kids get beat up and stolen from; they attempt suicide, deal drugs and have casual sex, and parents struggle to provide three (even one) meals a day. Though we know the outcome of this story going in—Dubus III eventually writes House of Sand and Fog—you'll read with the same anticipation you might feel while watching a hard-scrabble sports movie (think The Fighter). And it doesn't hurt that Dubus III writes clean, beautiful sentences. Sometimes it is hard to reconcile the iron-pumping, class-skipping kid with the man who becomes a writer.
In Townie, the narrator's dad, short story writer Andre Dubus, moves out after he and his wife divorce. Dubus III and his three siblings live with their mom in a series of small dirty houses in rough neighborhoods while their dad lives in faculty housing at a local college. The book's title comes from a derogatory term used by students at the college:
One morning between classes I cut through the student union building, its pool table and soft chairs, its serving counter where you could order a cheeseburger and coffee or hot chocolate. A group of them were over by the picture window which looked out onto the raked lawn. I heard one of them say, "That's Dubus's son. Look at him. He's such a townie."
I'd heard the word before. They used it for the men they'd see at Ronnie D's bar down in Bradford Square, the place where my father drank with students and his friends. It's where some men from the town drank, too—plumbers and electricians and millworkers, Sheetrock hangers and housepainters and off-duty cops: townies.
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