One Saturday night in the mid-’70s, I stood on the deck of a shabby duplex watching my teenage boyfriend — a character who could have walked out of the pages of Andre Dubus III’s powerful new memoir, “Townie” — beat another boy senseless in the parking lot below. Under the yellowish dusk-to-dawn lights, I could see my boyfriend’s blond sideburns, denim jacket and dingo boots, and I could see him punch the boy in the stomach until he crumpled to the ground, then kick him over and over until his nose and lips were split and bleeding. In “Townie,” which details Dubus’s 1970s coming-of-age in the poor mill towns of Massachusetts, there are none of the usual signifiers of today’s ’70s Nostalgia Industrial Complex, no peace-sign key chains or smiley-face T-shirts, none of the goofy stoners and ditsy girls in tube tops that American television viewers have become accustomed to on “That ’70s Show.” Instead, Dubus writes about “the apartments” where his older sister buys drugs, two rows of three-story buildings surrounded by packed dirt worn smooth, a Dumpster in back always filled with dirty diapers, used condoms and pizza boxes. He writes about an early manifestation of “Fight Club” culture at his school, where, whenever there is a fight, boys and girls rush to one spot “like they were being pulled there by the air itself. . . . Kids were yelling: ‘Kill him! Kill him!’ ”
It was his parents’ divorce that left Dubus fatherless and living in a world of violence and poverty. Dubus’s father (and namesake) was a well-known writer, famous among other things for his short story “The Winter Father,” about a man recently separated from his family. The most vivid image in the story is of the protagonist watching through his rearview mirror as his young son chases after him: “A small running shape in the dark, charging the car, picking up something and throwing it, missing, crying You bum You bum You bum.”
Click here for an excerpt from “Townie,” by Andre Dubus III.
[Photo Credit: Alan Guido]