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Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
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A Memoir

A-TownieAndre Dubus III is a novelist and short story writer. He is best known for his 1999 novel House of Sand and Fog, an Oprah Book Club pick and a finalist for the National Book Award.

The Topic: Andre Dubus III's father was a successful short story writer. But the transmission of talent from father to son was far from direct. The elder Dubus, also a professor at Bradford College, abandoned his wife for one of his writing students, leaving her and their four children to make ends meet (or, more often, not meet) in the nearby mill town of Haverhill. Dubus, who was 10 at that time, eventually learned to fight and saw violence as a way to escape his surroundings. Only years later would he learn that writing was a more effective way of dealing with the feelings inside him--and, ultimately, of coming to understand his father.
Norton. 400 pages. $25.95 ISBN: 9780393064667

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"This book marks an important moment in the growing body of Dubus's work. Here he reconciles as intimately and exactingly as possible the troubled--and ultimately redeemed--relationship he had with his father. And here he moves into the fatherless life of the mature artist, the one staking his claim to his own world of art in words." Bret Lott

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Pop only skirts around the edges of his young son's life in Dubus' frank, moving memoir, Townie. But his absence is everywhere. ... To his great credit, Dubus forgives Pop his sins, even as he heads down the longer, trickier road of forgiving his own." Jeff Giles

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"If the common fear of the offspring of famous writers is that they will not be able to define themselves outside of that shadow, Dubus has set a high water mark in this work: He shows us that the son's shadow can also be long, and can change the shape of that which came before it." Matthew Tiffany

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Townie is a better, harder book than anything the younger Mr. Dubus has yet written; it pays off on every bet that's been placed on him. It's a sleek muscle car of a memoir that--until it loses traction in clichés about redemption at its very end--growls like an amalgam of the best work by Richard Price, Stephen King, Ron Kovic, Breece D'J Pancake and Dennis Lehane, set to the desolate thumping of Bruce Springsteen's ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town.'" Dwight Garner

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As this fine memoir closes, Dubus is concerned with a fundamental question: Can he care for a father who did not really take care of him? To the book's credit (and the author's), he does not lean on easy redemption." Darcey Steinke

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It takes many chapters for this book to work through its macho theme, but Townie is, at bottom, about what it means to become a mature man. Like many boys who grew up watching their dad's packed car screeching out of the driveway, Mr. Dubus is haunted by yearning for a father's affection and interest. ... Mr. Dubus's father, in his own peculiar way, ended up nurturing his son both as a person and writer." Gordon D. Marino

Critical Summary

Critics felt that Dubus mainly lands his punches in this story of finding oneself in art instead of violence. As several reviewers noted, he focuses on the aspects of the time and place in which he grew up that are most relevant for his spiritual development, rather than telling a clichéd story of a tough, poor childhood. Some critics were a little bored by the pugilistic middle part of the book; others felt that it became a little too sentimental near the end. But overall they found themselves rooting for Dubus in his battles with his father and with himself.