Thursday, June 16, 2011

Townie by Andre Dubus III

I have an illogical and unsubstantiated bias against memoirs.  It's really irritating.  If it were a simple matter of taste, and I didn't happen to enjoy memoirs, that would be one thing...but that's not it.  I have enjoyed the memoirs I've read, for the most part.  But it's like this: I can't get over the idea that reading a memoir is akin to listening in on someone's therapy session.  It just feels weird.  There are just too many feelings intrinsically entwined with a memoir, (something I think about continually while reading one,) and it leaves me rather worn out.

My personal issues aside, Townie was an interesting book.  I read it because it was a Powell's Indiespensable selection, and I was completely unfamiliar with the author (haven't read House of Sand and Fog or any of his father's work).  I can't help but think that it would have been more rewarding to read under the following circumstances:

  1.) I was previously familiar with his (or his father's) life or writing
  2.) I was a guy (lots of weight lifting and fighting in this book)
  3.) I could relate to the time or place (1970s Massachusetts)
  4.) It was a tad shorter (not enough variance for 387pp.)

Even with these issues, though, it was an enjoyable, lasting read.  I appreciated the thoughtfulness and compassion he wrote with--it balanced out his circumstances.  After his parents divorced in 1970, Andre was taken out of his academia-entrenched lifestyle and plummeted into the poverty, drugs, and violence of a depressed mill town.  He and his siblings were basically left to fend for themselves as their mother struggled to stay afloat (emotionally and financially) and their father lived nearby, somehow unaware of the situation.

This book is a clear picture of how our past looms large.  Everyone has things in life that are difficult to process or understand, that are difficult to put behind us and move beyond...things that are typically more monumental in our own minds than could possibly be communicated to anyone else.  It is evident within the first few pages that the author has captured the haze through which we view our parents when we are young, and the journey we make to realizing that they--like us--are just people.

What was unique about this memoir is the viewpoint on writing.  Andre began life in the midst of some literary greats, but his parent's divorce quickly changed his surroundings. Because of this, he focused on developing his physical strength--something that would help him deal with the life he'd been given--sparing little time for intellectual or creative endeavors.  How these extremes ended up balancing out, and how he ended up finding himself as a writer, is fascinating.

So you see: a memoir: a book I'd never have picked up on my own, that I didn't think I would enjoy, ended up being an experience that has stuck with me.  One of my next book club books is a memoir, (Look Me in the Eye,) and while my smile obfuscates internal groaning, Townie has given me another reason to hope: another reason to convince myself that memoirs aren't that bad after all.

Title: Townie
Author: Andre Dubus III
Pages: 387
Published: 2011 W.W. Norton & Co.
Read For: Powell's Indiespensable
My Rating: 3.5 stars (above average!)


  1. Mary Karr and Jeannette Walls have written great memoirs...and I'm not normally a fan, either. As for Dubus, I loathed House of Sand and Fog, so I have zero interest in his memoir.

  2. What is strange is that the author grew up (and this book is the subject of ) the town next door to where I live now. I worked with a woman who knew his parents and him well... and while she may read (or have read) this memoir, I just can't bring myself to do it. I don't know why. I even like a lot of memoirs.

  3. Hmm... sounds interesting. But sometimes those barriers are there, and it can be hard to really get into something that is so far removed from what you know, or your comfort zone.

  4. Good job for reaching beyond your comfort zone in joining a therapy session already in progress.

    I use to like memoirs a whole lot more than I do now.

    Look Me In The Eye does look kind of good to me though.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful review.

  5. I hadn't really thought of it as listening to someone's therapy session, but I suppose it sort of is! Of course, I'm nosy, so that sort of thing doesn't bother me so much. ;)

  6. Jill, I loved The Glass I'll have to look into the other one you mentioned. The House of Sand and Fog isn't on my TBR, never captured my interest. maybe it'll stay that way. :)

    Sarah, I can totally understand that. Your comment makes me wonder if I actually fared better because I had no previous experience with him! Maybe if you're connected with the area it would simply be irritating.

    Bethany, there is the rare occasion that the writing can overpower lack of interest in the topic (The Good Earth was like that for me) and other times when a commonality seems necessary...Townie was somewhere in between I guess. :)

    Belle, isn't it interesting how we go through phases or stages as far as what types of books appeal to us? Who knows, maybe I'll actually get into memoirs at some point. It's an entertaining thought. My book club for the next memoir isn't until August, so I have time to procrastinate. :)

    Andi, I begin with a bit of embarrassment (feeling like I'm invading someone's privacy) but end up enjoying it because (let's face it) it's always fun to hear the juicy details. :)

  7. I also rarely chose memoires, but had good experiences with the one I did read, especially if they’re a bit “novelized”, like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Angela’s Ashes.


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