Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Townie: A Memoir

Over the holidays I read the memoir Townie by Andre Dubus III which was an in depth appraisal of how he came from a dysfunctional family and lived among the working class as well as welfare class of Haverhill, MA.  His father, a former Marine, was a prolific writer, but left the family of four kids and their mother when Andre was around six years of age.  His mother is left to raise four children on a social worker's salary and the kids found themselves moving from rental to rental and seemingly from one bad neighborhood to another.  The father went on to teach at Bradford College, see his kids on Sundays, and write professionally. 

This memoir demonstrates how children internalize power differences in society and how they choose to discover or create their own power.  After witnessing his brother being beat up and learning of his sister's rape, Andre decides to fight back through body building and fighting; oftentimes, violent fights.  It was a way to reclaim respect for himself and his family after so much was taken from them over the years.  This type of fighting was no child's play; it was fighting for your life, hurting people with whatever you had on you or within reaching distance.  Andre gained his father's attention and respect through the stories his friends and witnesses told of how well he could take care of business and protect himself, his family, and sometimes innocent bystanders.

This is also a story of finding one's power outside of fights and violence and through the written word.  Andre attends several colleges including the one where his father teaches, and he discovers how to release the rage and hostilities inside him through the power of storytelling in the form of short stories.  He sells his first short story and later his first novel.  This writing talent gives him some commonalities with his father.  Andre eventually demonstrates the power of conflict resolution not through violence, but questioning and reasoning.

This is also a story about people rising above horrid circumstances.  Andre eventually graduates from college; one sister works in domestic violence prevention, the other is a counselor, and his brother Jeb, who many times attempts to take his own life, eventually finds solace and purpose through architecture and classical guitar.  In the end, the family comes back together to help one another including his mother who eventually gets her master's degree.  Andre could choose to blame his parents for dealing him a bad hand, but in the end he learns that his mother and father were each doing the best they could everyday given the circumstances in which they found themselves; and many times that is all we can ask of ourselves and our parents.