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Tag: townie

Fightin’ Words

Here’s a good book for you: “Townie,” by Andre Dubus III.

And here is Jill Owens’s wonderful interview with the author over at Powell Books:

Jill: The way that writing seemed to teach you empathy, very directly, was impressive.

Dubus: I’m going to be on the road, and I’m going to have a three-minute interview on some morning TV show. The broadcaster probably won’t have time to read the book. They really want you to just pitch the book. They’ll ask, “What’s it about?” And I’ll end up saying, “I was bullied; I became a fighter, then I became a writer and writing saved my life.”

It sounds so reductive and horridly simplistic, like a TV movie of the week, when I describe it that way. I have disdain for that, but it’s the truth. [Laughter]

I love that line from Hemingway, “The job of the writer is not to judge, but to seek to understand.” We know he didn’t mean that writers aren’t judgmental in life. We can all be judgmental pricks like everybody else, and he certainly had his moments as a man. My father also wrote a beautiful essay about this in his own way, and I think what Hemingway was saying is that when you’re at the desk, the writing asks you to be larger than you may normally be. To be more patient, more merciful, more tolerant, a more disciplined listener, less judgmental, more compassionate.

What’s always drawn me to fiction as a reader is character-driven fiction — not the plot-driven stuff. I don’t like really wordy fiction. I’m not a metafiction fan. I don’t like a bunch of words just for the writer to show off the words. I really like them to be doing something around character and story.

I very quickly found that I couldn’t become my characters without just emptying myself of myself. And very, very soon after I began to write, I really couldn’t imagine punching someone in the face.I very quickly found that I couldn’t become my characters without just emptying myself of myself. And very, very soon after I began to write, I really couldn’t imagine punching someone in the face. You know that scene in the book with Donny C., when he was trying to stick the knife in his neck? I talked to him, and I realized, I would have fought this guy before. He’s obviously a bad-ass punk with a knife, but I’m going to talk him down.

It was writing. It was a combination of the daily practice of emptying myself of myself to receive these characters, combined with my spiritual distaste for the hangover that violence gives you.

One of the things that was confusing, and hopefully I was clear about this in the book, is that I had such mixed feelings. The little boy in me was so pleased at how tough I’d gotten, that I had the courage to step into any situation.

I didn’t go into any great detail about this, because it was really hard to write about without sounding like a blowhard. But in the fight with those Merrimack college kids… There were 11 of them, and I took on all 11 of them before my buddy showed up beside me. We kicked 11 guys out of the campus.

The little boy in me was so thrilled I’d become this kind of guy. The man in me was increasingly concerned. So, it was a combination of this spiritual distaste for violence, which I’d always hated and still do, with the daily practice of writing, that put me on a track that I haven’t gotten off of since.

I’m so full of shit in so many ways, you know. I always say I don’t believe in God, and I really don’t think I believe in a creator. I have a real hard time with that view that seems to me kind of childlike and simplistic. But I do believe in the divine, and I do believe in grace and mystery and spirits, probably, and maybe even angels. I don’t believe in the devil. I love Tom Waits’s line from “Heartattack and Vine”: “There is no devil, there’s just God when he’s drunk.”

A History of Violence

Check out this review of a tough but compelling-sounding memoir:

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]

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