By Cassandra Baim
Andre Dubus III’s compelling memoir, Townie, will make just about anyone reconsider calling his or her childhood dysfunctional. Blissfully growing up in a creative environment, Dubus watches his seemingly perfect family crumble with the dawn of his parents’ divorce. In response, Dubus spent his early adolescence doing more harm than good—taking drugs, drinking, and narrowly avoiding trouble, including bullies. Fueled by his helplessness as a child, he used his pent-up strength against anyone who threatened him, his friends, or his family. But we hardly comprehend the emotions that motivate him to throw the first punch. Similar justifications are absent throughout the memoir, as small memories are recounted in excruciating detail, with little emotional commentary. The gripping nature of these altercations more than make up for it, however, as we wonder how someone can talk about experiences with childhood poverty, drunkenness, and violence so calmly.
Mixing up the linear narrative structure, Townie takes numerous chronological jumps through Dubus’ life. One minute he describes a teenage bully who beat him and his brother to a bloody pulp in his own front yard, and in the next he tells you that the same person died 20 years later from a bullet wound. Townie is a powerful memoir with an abundant amount of insightful detail, more time lapses than the Back to the Future trilogy, and of course, plenty of bare-knuckle boxing. If nothing else, it will leave you with a mixture of pity and a nagging remorse that your upbringing wasn’t that interesting.
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Check out these other authors with sucky childhoods:
David Sedaris, author of Me Talk Pretty One Day: Between his addiction to speed, firm grasp of homosexuality (that man has never seen the inside of a closet), and severe OCD cured by chain-smoking, Sedaris has enough self-depricating material to make you stop feeling so sorry for yourself.
Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle: Talk about role reversal. The daughter of an alcoholic father and a self-indulgent, neglectful mother, Jeannette and her siblings roamed the country in a life of poverty, leaving her parents homeless.