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Andre Dubus III, Author of “Townie,” Describes the Bones of his Memoir as “I Know What Happened, But What the Hell Happened?”

2013 March 6
by marleen

Andre Dubus III signing copies of “Townie”

Standing before a tightly packed audience upstairs at the South End Library, novelist Andre Dubus III  talked about the genesis of  Townie, and the pitfalls of writing memoirs in general. Townie was an “accidental memoir,” he told the mesmerized listeners. He had written several novels (House of Sand and Fog, The Garden of Last Days, Bluesman), but started on what became Townie as an exploration of why he never learned to play baseball the way his sons had. Watching their  coaches yell things at them like “Bobby, I want nothing but strikes outta you, you hear that, nothing but strikes,”  Dubus III always assumed he never got into baseball because it was “too competitive” and therefore just “didn’t give a damn.” Four years and five hundred pages later he had produced a heart-rending memoir detailing his family’s life after his “charismatic father,” one of America’s best short-story writers, Andre Dubus, “dumped” his mother, a former  Louisiana beauty pagaent winner. She was 27, uneducated, with four young children and no income. She found a job and went back to school but her social-work career left the fridge bare and the rent often unpaid.

Author Doug Bauer, who introduced Dubus III, said Townie’s “raw prose” told two tales: of growing up amid the economic despair of the mill towns of the Merrimack River valley with a mother “long on love and short on cash,” and of Dubus III ‘s “generous acceptance” of his father as a man for whom writing was “essential.” Dubus III, now reconciled and resolved about who his father was, told the audience he finds he has to defend him to reviewers and readers. A priest who had once been a stockbroker, asked him if his father, who wrote so “insightfully,”  had been “a fraud.” “All I could say,” Dubus III commented, “was that the writer was larger than the man. He was gifted, but AWOL as a father.”  He worried that perhaps he had not “nailed” his father in his memoir but realized one of the pitfalls of memoir-writing is that it is your truth at a particular moment in time, not someone else’s. “It is easy to confuse the writer with the man,” he told the crowd. “But I couldn’t idealize him. My father was a deeply flawed man who, as a writer, illuminated the truth.”

Dubus III’s new novel, “Dirty Love,” will appear in October. The author has promised to return to the South End Library for a repeat performance. His five favorite books are listed under The South End Reads.

The next South End Writes reading will be on Tuesday, March 19, when South End writer Mari Passananti will talk about her latest suspense thriller, The K Street Affair.

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Tuesday, March 19, 6:30 p.m.

Mari Passananti 

will read from her second novel, The K Street Affair.

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Tuesday, April 16, 6:30 p.m.

Doug Bauer

Editor, writer of numerous books of fiction and non-fiction, and revered professor of English at Bennington College (to where he commutes from the South End), Bauer will read from his most recent collection of essays, What Happens Next?: Matters of Life and Death, to be published in the fall of 2013  by the University of Iowa Press. His previous work includes several novels, including Dexterity, The Very Air, and The Book of Famous Iowans; and two non-fiction books, Prairie City, Iowa and The Stuff of Fiction. He has edited anthologies, such as Prime Times: Writers on their favorite television shows; and Death by Pad Thai and Other Unforgettable Meals. 

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Tuesday, April 30, 6:30 p.m.

Barbara Shapiro 

wrote The Art Forger  as a fictionalized suspense thriller based on the heartbreaking heist of 13 irreplacable paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. The author of five other suspense novels, and the non-fiction The Big Squeeze, the South End resident  teaches creative writing at Northeastern University.

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Tuesday, May 14, 6:30 p.m.

Dennis Lehane,

the spectacularly successful author who grew up in Dorchester and is ALSO a BPL trustee, published his latest novel, Live by Night, in 2012. Set in Boston in the 1920s, the New York Times’ reviewer called the book a “sentence-by-sentence pleasure.” Previous novels include, among others, Gone Baby Gone,Shutter Island and Mystic River, all made into fabulous movies.

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Tuesday, May 21, 6:30 p.m.

Alice Hoffman

The Dovekeepersa historical novel describing the AD70 massacre at Masada from the point of view of four women at the fortress before it fell during the Jewish-Roman war, is the most recent of the nearly two dozen novels by Hoffman and just came out in paperback. To be introduced by Sue Miller.

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Tuesday, June 11, 6:30 p.m.

Alice Stone,

the local filmmaker whose mesmerizing documentary, Angelo Unwritten, has followed the life of a teenager adopted out of foster care when he was twelve, will return with an update of new material gathered since December 2011.

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Tuesday, June 18, 6:30 p.m.

Philip Gambone  

will return to read from his current work-in-progress, retracing the steps of his father who, as a soldier, was sent to Europe during the Second World War.

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