Sunday, August 28, 2011

An Anatomy of Rage: "Townie" by Andre Dubus III

I became a fan of the writing of Andre Dubus III when I heard him read from his landmark novel, "House of Sand and Fog." So, I was excited to learn that he had penned a memoir. "Townie" is a remarkable achievement of transparency and vulnerability. I think of it as an anatomy of rage - how Dubus learned to harness the inchoate rage that burned within him as a result of his upbringing on the mean streets of Haverhill and Newburyport, Massachusetts.

His father left the family when Andre III and his brother and sister were still quite young. The small amount of money that the struggling writer and teacher was able to send to support the family ensured that they lived in affordable and rough neighborhoods along the banks of the Merrimac River. The fact that I also grew up along those riverbanks made the reading of Dubus' recollections all the more poignant for me.

Andree II lurks as a phantom character throughout the memoir, moving on and off the stage of the drama that was unfolding in the life of his namesake. The evolution of the son's handling his inner demons is the skeleton of this moving piece of literary reflections. Early on he expresses his rage through physical attacks - always spoiling for a fight. Eventually, he learns that writing is an effective and intoxicating substitute for fisticuffs.

The struggling family subsisted on Lime Street in the down-at-the-heels South End of Newburyport. It was not today's suburban Eden of shoppes and up-scale restaurants, but a hard scrabble town that smelled of the tannery that provided employment for many of the working class denizens of Joppa. A memorable chapter includes a fight in the playground of the Jackman School during recess. The fact that during my junior high school years on my way to the Jackman School I walked each day past the Lime Street house that would one day house Dubus and his siblings made the book very touching indeed.

This honest memoir explains a great deal about the "making of the sausage" that is often the ugly pilgrimage that a person undergoes in being transformed into a writer who work is worth reading. This set of literary jab and left hooks by this pugilistic writer is well worth the investment. I invite you to step into the ring with him.

1 comment:

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I think he is a wonderful writer and ordered another of his books. It gave me a glimpse into another world and I learned a lot from the story. Good read.