TOWNIE

A Memoir

Andre Dubus III

After their parents divorced in the 1970s, Andre Dubus III and his three siblings grew up with their exhausted working mother in a depressed Massachusetts mill town saturated with drugs and crime. To protect himself and those he loved from street violence, Andre learned to use his fists so well that he was even scared of himself. He was on a fast track to getting killed—or killing someone else. He signed on as a boxer.

Nearby, his father, an eminent author, taught on a college campus and took the kids out on Sundays. The clash of worlds couldn’t have been more stark—or more difficult for a son to communicate to a father.

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After their parents divorced in the 1970s, Andre Dubus III and his three siblings grew up with their exhausted working mother in a depressed Massachusetts mill town saturated with drugs and crime. To protect himself and those he loved from street violence, Andre learned to use his fists so well that he was even scared of himself. He was on a fast track to getting killed—or killing someone else. He signed on as a boxer.

Nearby, his father, an eminent author, taught on a college campus and took the kids out on Sundays. The clash of worlds couldn’t have been more stark—or more difficult for a son to communicate to a father. Only by becoming a writer himself could Andre begin to bridge the abyss and save himself. His memoir is a riveting, visceral, profound meditation on physical violence and the failures and triumphs of love.

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  • W.W. Norton & Company
  • Hardcover
  • February 2011
  • 400 Pages
  • 9780393064667

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$25.95

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About Andre Dubus III

Andre Dubus III is the author of Townie, The Garden of Last Days and House of Sand and Fog (an Oprah Book Club pick and a finalist for the National Book Award). He lives with his family north of Boston.

Praise

“Dubus chronicles each traumatic incident and realization in stabbing detail. So chiseled are his dramatic memories, his shocking yet redemptive memoir of self-transformation feels like testimony under oath as well as hard-hammered therapy, coalescing, ultimately, in a generous, penetrating, and cathartic dissection of misery and fury, creativity and forgiveness, responsibility and compassion.” — Booklist (starred review)

“His compassionate memoir abounds with exquisitely rendered scenes of fighting, cheating, drugging, drinking and loving. A striking, eloquent account of growing up poor and of the making of a writer.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The best first-person account of an author’s life I have ever read. The violence that is described is the kind that is with us every day, whether we recognize it or not. The characters are wonderful and compassionately drawn. I sincerely believe Andre Dubus may be the best writer in America. His talent is enormous. No one who reads this book will ever forget it.”
—James Lee Burke, author of the Dave Robicheaux novels

“I’ve never read a better or more serious meditation on violence, its sources, consequences, and, especially, its terrifying pleasures, than Townie. It’s a brutal and, yes, thrilling memoir that sheds real light on the creative process of two of our best writers, Andre Dubus III and his famous, much revered father. You’ll never read the work of either man in quite the same way afterward. You may not view the world in quite the same way either.”—Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls

Discussion Questions

Although the chronology of Dubus’s memoir spans his life from young childhood until 1999, Townie opens with a vignette from his adolescence, in which he goes long-distance running with his father. Why does Dubus begin his story with this particular event? What do we learn from this scene alone about Dubus’s life?

 

Although Andre’s father was a writer known for the insight and empathy expressed in his fiction, he seems clueless about his children’s day-to-day suffering. His mother is also largely unaware. Why?

 

Why does the young Dubus “like” what he sees in the school fight he witnessed at the age of twelve: “I liked seeing the blood spattering across his nose and mouth and chin, and I especially liked how tightly his eyes were shut against the fear, and the pain.”

 

Celebrated fellow writer Richard Russo describes Townie as a “meditation on violence.” In what way is that so? What did you find most impressive or moving about Dubus’s descriptions of violence in the book? What are its “terrifying pleasures”?

 

Dubus often expresses his recollections tentatively, using language like “probably” and “maybe.” What does this reflect about Dubus’s relationship with his own memories? How does this influence your own attitude toward the book and the author?

 

Andre and his siblings escape their bleak home lives in different ways: Suzanne with men, Jeb with music and art, Andre with weight training and fighting, and Nicole by locking herself away in her bedroom. Were there other coping strategies they could have used? Why were these the ones they each chose?

 

Dubus writes in great detail about numerous carpentry and construction projects—from building a tree house with Jeb as children to their work with a housing contractor as adults. What role does the act of construction play in each of the stages in Dubus’s life? How might it suggest a response to his parents’ way of being in the world?

 

Between inertia and throwing the first punch, Dubus writes, “You have to move through two barriers . . . 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.” What about puncturing the “membrane” appeals to Dubus? What causes him to seek it out over the years?

 

How would you describe Andre’s father’s interest in his son’s strength and potential for violence? What is that about?

 

What does the book say about the origins of violence? About its consequences? Its possible cures?

 

What is the role of privilege in the book and in the lives of the Dubus family? What does the book say about the relationship between the haves and the have-nots in society as a whole?

 

What are the different ways of “being a man” explored in Townie? How did Andre, his father, and his grandfather each answer the question of what it means to be a man? How did both Andre and his father revise their definitions over time?

 

What separates Andre and his father and what brings them together? How do various people in the book manage to reconcile with one another?

 

What role do sports—running, boxing, and baseball, specifically—play in Townie?

 

When Andre’s father’s legs are crushed in an automobile accident, Andre teaches him about bodybuilding and shadowboxing in an effort to help him recover his strength. In what ways does the accident change their relationship?

 

Why, given their past, do Andre and his brothers and sisters all rally around their father after his accident? What holds this family together?