One of my professors from college is a friend of Andre Dubus III and greatly respects and admires his father as well. I will be honest, so far I haven’t been able to finish The House of Sand and Fog. I also own The Garden of Last Days, which I bought for a novel-writing class, but never even cracked the cover. When I heard about Dubus’ newest book, Townie, I was intrigued for several reasons. It was reviewed very favorably by the New York Time’s Book Review and it was a departure from Dubus’ usual path of fiction. Now, after starting Dubus’ memoir I not only feel like I have a better glimpse into understanding his fiction, but also into himself as a writer and as a son of a very famous writer.
I found an advanced reading copy of Townie in paperback in a small bookstore in Chelsea on my lunch break and couldn’t resist ($6!). As a editorialist (I’m not sure how I feel about that word, but that is a subject for another post), the idea of an advanced reading copy, with typos and all, is really magical. I’m still reading the book, but I’m flying through it because the narrative is propelling.
The book is definitely as it is described—violent. But there are many moments when a person who has never been in a fight can relate to Dubus and his description of himself as a townie. Firstly, there are several instances in the book when Dubus is put in a world he doesn’t understand. He is a foreigner in his own town, unaware of the lingo, unprepared for people’s’ reactions and behavior. For example, his father throws a baseball with Andre bare-handed one day and is surprised by his son’s lack of experience with America’s pastime. Andre goes to his first baseball game with his friend Sam and doesn’t know or understand the terms like strike, pitch, curve ball, out. Another example is when his father’s young third wife tells Andre she grew up in Manhattan. He has never heard of Manhattan before and feels ashamed. It is something we can all relate to—that feeling of remembering the first time you heard a term or word and how it changed your life. That seems strange to say, but I really believe learning a new word, or a new world like baseball for that matter, can change a persons’ life.
I went to college in a small town where there were a lot of working people, trying to make a living in a slightly depressed area. The three bars in town housed all the townspeople and the University students. On Friday’s, the most popular bar, Bot’s, was where the townies went after working all week to unwind. I would still go to Bot’s on Fridays, but my friends and I were the few college kids who did. There were old men, in their 70s and younger men and women who worked at the mall and the car dealerships and restaurants on the Strip as the populated highway where Routes 11 and 15 met, people who we saw daily walking Market Street or pumping our gas at Sheetz. The only time we really interacted with them besides in the restaurants and the mall was in the bar. This book gives me a totally different perspective on those people I shared a town with for four years. Dubus takes the word townie and embraces it, encapsulates it, and runs from it.
As a writer myself, I write primarily fiction, but with my experiences as a commuter in New York City I have been considering writing a memoir. Dubus’ book has really helped me think about how I would structure such a book and how I would choose important scenes and experiences to illustrate my current state as a bridge-and-tunnel-er.
Now, I will go finish Townie because this book is really a crowning moment for Dubus in my mind. And I believe I will go back and read Dubus’ other books as well.