Monday, July 11, 2011

Book review: Townie by Andre Dubus III

I heard an interview with Andre Dubus III a few months ago on NPR when David and I were driving through Florida. I found myself telling David more than once, "I have to read that book!" I like memoirs (especially if they're written by actual, talented writers as opposed to, say, people who are famous for something other than writing), I like books that take place in Massachusetts (where I grew up), and I'm especially drawn to stories involving divorce and family issues.

If, by chance, any of you go for these elements in a book, Townie is definitely for you. But even if you don't, there are plenty of other reasons to read this book.

Townie is a book about masculinity. If I'd known that, I may have passed on it. I'm glad I didn't figure that out until I was already hooked. David recently told me he rarely reads books written by women, that he often finds the themes and writing styles less interesting and easy to relate to than those written by men. I told this to my sister, and she said she rarely reads books written by men for the same reason. I read both, but I do tend to be drawn more to books with female protagonists. Which, more often than not, are also written by women, so I suppose I probably end up reading more female authors as well. I feel particularly turned off by most books about war (well, blow-by-blow battle accounts, anyway...I have enjoyed reading about the effects of war and violence on individuals and society), or books about men finding themselves through lots of random or extra-marital sex, and other stereotypical "manly" themes.

Townie is different, because Dubus - at least by the time he wrote the book - had a very deep understanding of himself and his motivations, so although there is a lot of violence in the book, it is treated with a level of introspection and honesty that I've never seen before. I felt that I could understand and relate to this guy who gets in bar fights all the time, which is pretty damned far outside my experience. But hey, isn't that why we read, anyway?

The book is mostly chronological, but the beginning part is less so, with more jumps back and forth in time. I found this a bit jarring and I'm not sure why Dubus made this choice. Once the book settled into a strictly chronological format, I enjoyed the flow of the story.

I admit, another thing that I love about memoirs is that I can look the "characters" up on Wikipedia after I've finished reading about them. It's satisfying, like reality TV...only you can feel better about yourself, because it's literary, not trashy ;)

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