But marriage and parenting four children would take their toll, and with the divorce, the children would watch their father walking away, while they were left behind, as many children of divorce are. Their lives would be more impoverished because of the financial strains of living with a single mom. Oftentimes there was not enough food in the house, and sometimes during the long hours that their mother was at work, the kids had to fend for themselves. And what they found to occupy themselves was often something disruptive.
But nearby, the father, Andre Dubus, already a published author, would enjoy the writer’s life, while teaching at a nearby college. He had many female companions, some of whom he married. And his time with his children felt like “dating” them, a description he shared with them.
As the oldest son and second child, young Andre would find that living in a series of poor mill towns in Massachusetts would be a kind of training ground for having to fight for what he wanted. And to stave off the bullying that seemed to follow him everywhere. But first he had to work out and develop the muscles he would need.
Much of the story in Townie: A Memoir reveals what that life was like for the young boy, and how he eventually came to change how he looked at fighting; how he eventually learned how to deal with that rage that arose in him. In this excerpt, he shows us what that felt like:
“Ever since I was a boy running from other boys, I’d been making myself into a man who did not flee, a man who planted his feet and waited for that moment when throwing a punch was the only thing to do, waited for that invisible membrane around me to fall away and I’d gather once again the nerve and will to shatter another’s. But I had discovered a new membrane now. The one between what we think and what we see, between what we believe and what is.”
But it would take many years for young Andre to arrive at this place…and then only after he began writing in his notebooks and channeling his feelings into his writing.
It would also be many years before father and son would develop a better relationship. Toward the end of the story, when Andre had just published the book House of Sand and Fog, the closeness between them would be stronger than ever.
The story was riveting, even though the earliest sections that dealt with the rage and fighting were difficult to get through. The rewards that came in the second half of the book made having to slog through the violence worth it. Recommended for those who relish writer’s memoirs, and especially for those who have enjoyed other works by this author. Four stars.