The memoir boom would never have happened if so many aspiring writers hadn't grown up with such god-awful fathers drunks and bullies, no-shows emotionally and literally. Andre Dubus III 's father was the darkly powerful short-story writer of the same name. Pop only skirts around the edges of his young son's life in Dubus' frank, moving memoir, Townie. But his absence is everywhere.
Dubus, best known for House of Sand and Fog, grew up in a depressed Massachusetts town in the '70s. We watch him transform from a terrorized weakling into a bodybuilding freak so jittery with rage that he becomes a kind of messed-up superhero always looking for a good (or at least passable) reason for a fight. Pop, meanwhile, is a strange character: a divorced dad too shy to hang out with his own kids but not too shy to chase college girls half his age or carry guns in a bid for manliness. Andre and Pop eventually get to know each other as drinking buddies. The irony is that the son not only has to learn the hard truths about violence by himself but also has to teach them to his father. To his great credit, Dubus forgives Pop his sins, even as he heads down the longer, trickier road of forgiving his own. A–