Robert P. ImbelliApril 25, 2011 - 12:51pm0 comments
Andre Dubus III
Norton, $25.95, 387 pp.
One of the most moving collections of essays I know is Broken Vessels by Andre Dubus II. Almost twenty years ago I recommended it to Commonweal readers, praising the author’s “sacramental imagination.” Some of those essays were written prior to, some after, the horrific accident that cost Dubus the use of both legs. (He stopped to help a young woman whose car had broken down on the highway and ended up saving her life.) Dubus’s recuperation and subsequent literary work are a testimony to his generosity of spirit and a tribute to the family and friends who sustained him through dark nights and days.
One member of that family, his son Andre Dubus III, is a distinguished writer in his own right. And though the phrase “sacramental imagination” does not appear in his new memoir, Townie, the book bears many traces of an inheritance from his father: a pervading sense that the everyday is charged with surpassing grandeur.
Townie is, among other things, the story of a boy’s coming of age in the decaying cities north of Boston, living amid the drink, drugs, and sex that enthralled so many people his age in the 1970s. Dubus has a novelist’s feel for time and place: he doesn’t so much send us a report from the Haverhill, Newburyport, and Lawrence of his youth as take us there. The Merrimack River is a winding, brooding presence in this book. So are the people who shaped him: friends and foes; his two sisters and younger brother; his...