There is violence in our world. For some of us, we can turn a blind eye and pretend it isn’t there. But that does not mean it is gone. Violence has been around since Cain and Able, is still around, and will be around tomorrow when all in the world has changed, except human nature. In reading Townie: A Memoir, Andre Dubus III brought that violence into my home: not glorifying it, nor sugar-coating it; never seeking sympathy. His words seek only understanding. With simple, earnest, honesty he told his story.
Andre Dubus III was raised in some of the tougher neighborhoods in Boston by a working mother, while his father lived only miles away, devoid of understanding of his children’s daily condition. Dubus tells of growing up a scared and skinny kid with an overwhelming sense of responsibility to care for his people or those he viewed as needing protection. He takes us on a journey of weight lifting, running, boxing and street fights that lets you deep into his soul, his anguish, and anger. Even at the height of his physical domination, his inability to protect those he loved from harm confuses and torments him. There is a sense that when he punches the bag or faces an opponent he is seeking an answer and if he can just hit hard enough he will find it.
It is when he puts pen to paper, that the Dubus begins to find his answers, and in finding his answers, he gives so much to his readers. As a writer, he gave me encouragement: through the words of his mother, the ‘thank you’s’ written by his father at the end of a day of writing, and through the stories of the characters sitting on the edges of his scenes. As a reader he gave me page after page of stunning imagery: walking me through Boston neighborhoods, into local bars, across the campus where his father taught. He introduced me to his family with their flaws, their fear and their love.
Sometimes when I seek examples of why I enjoyed a book, I have to sift through several pages to find a quote, or a scene that inspires. Not so for Townie. Every page is packed with descriptions that impact all senses. Every page depicts unending love of family and friends, despite the violence. Every page lets you into the life of the young boy, who survives the streets to find his way as a young man. Dubus describes events that crippled others: emotionally, physically, mentally; events that caged acquaintances: behind bars, in bars, and six feet under. His rendering of how he took these events and ultimately found his life’s work was inspiring.
I’m not a believer of the end justifying the means. But for Dubus, his life was mean. In response he learned to protect himself, first by fighting, and ultimately by understanding. What a loss to the literary world had Andre Dubus III chosen to continue with his fists instead of learning to use his words.