Sunday, March 19, 2017

Townie by Andre Dubus

Young Andre goes from skinny bullied boy to rageaholic to eventual wise man

Andre, a teenager, lives with his mother and three siblings in various depressed Massachusetts failing mill towns. His exhausted mother simply does not have enough money to pay for rent, clothes and food. Each month the family comes up short. Their father, a college professor, also financially straightened, on his weekend visits chooses not to see their material and spiritual poverty, even though he seems to have sufficient money and time for womanizing, drinking and the Red Sox. Andre, a small skinny kid, is bullied by the neighborhood toughs. One day, after his sister is beaten up and his mother called a whore, he stands there, too afraid to act. After that humiliation, he dedicates himself to never being hurt again and begins to methodically work out and wills himself into becoming a guy who likes to get into bar fights. He studies boxing and thrills to knocking men out with one punch. For the first time, his father pays attention to him. After some close calls, however, Andre realizes he must get control of his anger, or he will end up getting killed.

This memoir was absolutely gripping and crafted with an idea of maximum tension. The sad story of the fucked up family is effectively presented. The failure of the father and mother to protect the children from chaos. The lack of money and more importantly, the lack of attention. Andre can only learn the brutal values of the ignorant underclass in the depressed milltown. He reaches bottom, then decides to turn himself and his fists into deadly and capricious weapons. The end of the book was artfully constructed – he doesn’t need to use his fists anymore. It’s almost a religious sequence, his lying down in his father’s coffin, in his father’s grave that the sons dug. What’s left unspoken is that the sons are better men than he.

Part of what makes this memoir unique is that the self centered father is Andre Dubus, noted short story writer. It certainly puts his life and possibly his writing in a new light, considering his deeply held religious worldview, as expressed in his heartfelt stories of working class desperation.  This book contrasts that with his blithely doing whatever he wanted to do, abandoning wife and kids to grim uncultured poverty, so he could have love affairs with his college students, quiet time to write and the freedom to take off on his runs. Were the children sacrificed on the altar of their father’s art? He comes off as despicable with no self knowledge, although at the end, after the father suffers a debilitating accident, the family seems to come together, although the siblings and the mother are drawn something thinly and don’t seem quite come off as quite real.

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