Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #17: Townie by Andre Dubus III

Townie is a memoir written by the author of House of Sand and Fog, among other fine novels. It portrays the journey of one young man’s descent into a personal hell, and his inspiring climb back out again. Written in novelesque fashion, it reminded me of nothing so much as a non-fiction version of some of Dennis Lehane’s poignant novels set in a south end of Boston dominated by alcohol, drugs, crime and violence. Dubus spent his impoverished childhood in the seventies moving with his divorced mom and three siblings from one dying New England mill town to the next, staying one step ahead of eviction, often going hungry and being bullied and beaten up everywhere he went. Endless television and hiding out became his and his siblings’ lives for years, their mother’s occasional magical optimism and their professor/writer father’s weekly fly-through visits their only relief from the grimness.

The constant humiliation of being a perpetual victim eroded Dubus’ soul, and at one point, as he puts it, he “broke through the membrane” of social conscience that prevents most people from using violence against another. In his teens, he began a punishing, obsessive routine to build up his body and learn to fight, and then he began to wreak revenge, looking for any and all slights—real or imagined, against himself or against another–to beat perceived bullies to a pulp, and coming near to killing several of them. One sister became a drug dealer, while his brother and youngest sister did their best to hide from their lives in their rooms. His life becomes a schizophrenic one of insightful observations on one level but a totally inability to rein in or overcome his insane fury on the other.

Dubus’ discovery of writing as a way to channel himself into something both healing and creative is a slow process, as is his shedding of the animal rage that continues to drive him. It also eventually enables him to build a relationship with his quirky father around forgiveness and a shared love of the written word. Dubus’ life is painfully depicted, beautifully rendered, and a universal warning to the rest of us that our inherent humanity is not something necessarily handed to us, but needs to be strived for and won, sometimes over and over again.

Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #8: The Good House by Ann Leary

This is an interesting novel, just released last month. It’s one I would recommend for those looking for a book with a little bit of mystery, a lot of character study (can we really judge ourselves accurately?) and some vivid scenery. Suggested to me by the same person who offered up ‘Defending Jacob,’ it tells the story from the perspective of Hilda Good, a divorced real estate agent in her late 50s/early 60s who still lives in the Massachusetts seaside town where she grew up. She has a bit of a drinking problem (the size of which is debated throughout the book) and not a lot of friends.

The book follows Hildy over the course of a very eventful year as she befriends a new town resident, becomes privy to some secrets perhaps she should not, and rediscovers (in various different ways) friends from her youth. Hildy is the type of character who is flawed and you see it. She isn’t hateful, or horrible; she’s just not perfect. I don’t have any experience with alcoholic parents, so I can’t say whether the depiction of her and her family would ring true to someone who does, but it did not seem cartoonish to me. Instead, the writing portrays a woman who thinks she knows her limits but may be quite close to pushing them further than she can handle.

The pacing of the book felt a little off, but I do wonder if part of that is due to reading it on an e-reader. I know it sounds odd, but even though there’s a little percentage complete box at the bottom of the screen, I have a much harder time putting that into perspective as compared to when I’m holding a physical book in my hand. My brain has spent over 30 years expecting books to flow in a certain manner relative to the amount remaining; with an e-reader those cues are gone. It did at times feel like a lot of ‘nothing’ was happening, but I never had to struggle to pick it up, finishing it in about three days, and am still able to picture the town, the houses, and all of the characters quite vividly.

I’d say this is a great little read for a weekend spent somewhere chilly. Add it to your mid-October reading list, warm up some cider and let yourself spend some time in New England.