Andre Dubus III: Talk of the Townie

"Experienced fighters don't do any foreplay"--Dubus III

Radio Open Source host Christopher Lydon sets up his knockout punch barely two minutes into this podcasted interview with Andre Dubus III. Lydon asks Dubus to read the final pages of Townie: A Memoir--the scene of his father's burial. In his softened Merrimack River Valley accent Dubus mixes scraps of "The Lord's Prayer" with townie epithets, imagining a present-day joyride of vengeance while nearly elegizing the tormentors and battle scenes of his youth, a narrative weaving that succeeds in "accelerating after the boys he'd been, hoping he'll find them, hoping he won't." Apparently Dubus, most famous for his novel House of Sand and Fog, has both found and captured those boys in Townie, the memoir he finally wrote after he tried for 25 years and three drafts to base a novel on the same subject.

Merrimack Metamorphosis
Dubus knows how to tell a story without pummeling it, and Lydon is smart enough to let him truncate his own anecdotes. In half an hour's conversation they highlight Dubus's transformation from bullied mill town kid, to buff adolescent pugilist, to mature writer-father-teacher without killing the listener's appetite to read Townie in print. The podcast won't spoil the book for you, but it will add the bonus of storing Dubus's real voice in your head. At Minute 19 he reads aloud the section where he transforms his fighting energy into writing energy, and dramatizes both the surprise and the insight he gains from that transformation. Dubus, who teaches writing at UMass Lowell, also tosses off craft advice from the greats, including a micro-lecture at Minute 35 that builds a formula for fiction from the advice of the poet William Stafford (curiosity+willingness to fail+concrete, sensuous detail+"lean, mean language"=stories about characters in trouble).

Selective Inheritance
Dubus is startlingly forgiving of his late father, famous short-story writer Andre Dubus, who was a minor presence in four children's impoverished childhood after he left the family for a student. He also cites his father as his favorite writer, and rather than mourn the fathering he missed out on, Dubus says he appreciates his opportunity to be a different kind of father to his own kids. For an interview with Dubus about Townie that focuses more tightly on the Dubus family dynamics, listen to this Andre Dubus interview with Eleanor Wachtel on CBC's Writers & Company podcast, which includes an eerie moment when Wachtel plays back audio from 20 years earlier of Andre Dubus the elder talking about the toe-bloodying 11-mile father-son run that also features in Townie (Minute 28).

Lights Out
The Radio Open Source interview ends with Dubus and Lydon talking about the importance of weighting your back foot before you throw a punch. Cute, but effective: you have to credit a guy who knows his street fighting and his Flaubert.

Podcast Links:

Radio Open Source podcast: Andre Dubus III interview with Christopher Lydon (35 minutes), recorded 3/1/2011

Writers & Company podcast: Andre Dubus III interview with Eleanor Wachtel (53 minutes), broadcast date 3/4/2011