Monday, February 28, 2011

Dubus memoir - a 'meditation on violence' - releases today

Growing up in a college town, I always knew what it meant to be a townie. I was one, and I took pride in that fact ... most of the time.

Later, when I was a student at at Penn State, there was a sort of notoriety in being from there. So many of my childhood friends had gone on to higher learning just a few blocks from our high school. We were set apart by our history, our prior knowledge of each other and the town, even on a campus of 40,000.

I lived with my brother instead of living in the dorms. I worked in a townie restaurant. I drank at the townie bar. I could not escape into anonymity - which was both a good and a bad thing. It was part of who I was.

To be a townie in Boston (or in this case, the northern Mass. mill towns) seems to be a whole other, more violent ballgame, and evoke indelible memories and emotions for the likes of, say, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and now, novelist Andre Dubus III, who has penned a new book, "Townie: A Memoir."

The 352-page W.W. Norton title was released today from the author of "House of Sand and Fog." It's been called "a meditation on violence." Read more about the novel on Dubus' website.

Below is a book review of Dubus' new book by Associated Press writer Rob Merrill.

'Townie' reveals the violent evolution of a writer
ROB MERRILL,Associated Press

"Townie: A Memoir" (W.W. Norton, $25.95), by Andre Dubus III: Write what you know. It's an adage drilled into anyone who's ever put pen to paper or fingers to keys. It's also what makes memoirs such a test for fiction writers.

Andre Dubus III (pictured at right) passes that test with the highest marks in "Townie." It's a searing memoir; a punch in the gut, literally. The son of acclaimed short story writer Andre Dubus II and the author of "House of Sand and Fog" strips away all pretense and writes with blunt honesty about how he became a writer and the things he regrets along the way.

The book's central theme is violence — its genesis, consequences and addictive nature. One of four children from a broken family in the mill towns of northeastern Massachusetts (dad leaves mom for a younger woman and a teaching job across the Merrimack River at the now-defunct Bradford College), Dubus witnesses fights in streets and bars from an early age. He and his siblings are picked on mercilessly.

Dubus captures the time with an assault on the senses: "Summer came and now windows were open there was the canned laughter and commercial jingles of six or seven TVs ... a bottle breaking, a drunk singing, a motorcycle or lowrider revving its engine ... the smells of hot asphalt, the dusty concrete of broken sidewalks ..."

When Dubus channels his teenage rage into bodybuilding, obsessively doing hard-core workouts from muscle magazines, joining a gym and then a boxing club, he becomes the perpetrator rather than the victim of violence. After his sister is gang-raped, he becomes obsessed with protecting his family, trying to fill a hole left by his absent father.

The book is filled with meditations on violence. Here's Dubus on what it feels like to punch someone in the face: " ... you have to move through two barriers to do something like that, one inside you and one around him, as if everyone's body is surrounded by an invisible membrane you have to puncture to get to them."

It's a wonder that Dubus' story didn't end in permanent incarceration or premature death. It's just about a miracle that he somehow replaced all the violence with writing. The passage when he picks up a pencil for the first time and feels the transformative power of storytelling is a marvel. When he's done, he observes the world with fresh eyes: "I blinked and looked around my tiny rented kitchen, saw things I'd never seen before: the stove leaning to the left, the handle of the fridge covered with dirty masking tape, the chipped paint of the window casting, a missing square of linoleum on the floor under the radiator."

Once he discovers the release of writing, the rest of the story spills out — there's Marxism, Boston's Fenway Park, reconciliation with dad, lots of carpentry and a powerful moment in a freshly dug grave, looking up at the sky.

Andre Dubus III is a family man now with a wife and three daughters. He's a professor just like his father. And he's discovered, during a life of enduring and inflicting pain, his voice as a writer.

"Townie" captures the birth and evolution of that voice — one worth listening to by anyone who believes in the redemptive power of the written word.

1 comment:

Micaella Lopez said...

For those who love great memoir, this is hard to put down. Visceral, sensual, a powerful view into powerlessness, rage, abandonment, redemption, forgiveness. His recollections on how he found his voice through writing are beautifully conveyed.
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