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on 22 August 2011
I read Andre Dubus' novel 'House of Sand and Fog' many years ago with pleasure and admiration over his unusual and original storyline. I heard the author talking about this book on Radio 4, and wanted to read the book even before I realised who the author was. This book which details his upbringing, and that of his siblings, is a study in nature vs nurture. Imagine the dichotomy of growing up with two educated, erudite, loving divorced parents, who despite their long hours of hard work (which effectively prevented them from being able to parent properly) were unable to provide even the basics of three meals a day for their children. Their absence from their children's lives meant that they all brought themselves up, terribly imperfectly, and the collateral of this neglect reverberated down the years through the choices and relationships they made as adults. Written with vulnerability, love, affection, forgiveness, gentleness, compassion and humour, this erudite novel forms the well from which Andre Dubus is able to draw his inspiration.
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on 24 October 2011
The most interesting and moving memoir I've ever read. This book tracks the life - particularly the early life - of this excellent writer through a series of roughly chronological memories and anecdotes. Brought up in tough New England towns, he tells of how he was the recipient of regular beatings from the local hard cases. This pattern continued as he moved from one run down area to the next until he decided to change things by developing his own body, through boxing and weight lifting, to enable his transformation into a street brawler feared by others.
The author's father left home for one of his many female conquests early in the life of Dubus and the relationship between father and son is a strong thread throughout. The journey from fighter to manual worker, whilst flitting in and out of education, to becoming a writer is documented with ruthless and uncompromising honesty. In all it's an inspiring and uplifting tale - I loved it.
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on 5 August 2014
I enjoyed it and can overlook some issues, but many readers won't. There are several intriguing psychologies with characters battling through flaws that are expressed simply with elegance. These are within the author himself, his relationships with parents, siblings, friends and the world in general that are the heart of this story and make it a page-turner. I enjoyed the candor and humor of his memories, the reminders of the influence of screen-heroes like "Billy-Jack" to an impressionable boy. The book reads as if listening to an interesting person at the bar, pleasant conversation on emerging out of cowardice and shame into growth and unbridled power and eventual vulnerability and change. Finding yourself, who you are and what you believe in is deep stuff, presented well here. It's funny, sad, interesting, memorable. The book is great with all of that.
Then there are parts I have issues with, and it starts with credibility. Hard to believe a story that begins with a kid (15?) going for an 11-mile run with his dad, when the kid doesn't jog normally, has no shoes except for his sister's which are 2 sizes too small and already causing him incredible pain before the run even begins and distressing him constantly while running. It's possible, yes, but seriously doubtful to begin a book.
I'm estimating there are between 500 to 600 named characters, first and last names. It seems like every other page has a scene with 4 new characters introduced, most of them only existing briefly for a paragraph or a few pages to touch on a quick snippet. My brain starts waving flags and asking how many of them move the story further.
And then of course there are the Red Sox and Fenway Park, two things the author basically says he had never heard of while growing up for years in Massachusetts. That could only happen if you grew up with absolutely no social life, no TV, no radio, no mental connection to the outside world which the author clearly had as evidenced by the 500 named characters. Imagine living many years north of Boston, going to your first Red Sox game, having a beer with a pal while learning a few rules of baseball, which you've hardly ever seen, and oh by the way you catch a foul ball and give it to Dad (who loves the Red Sox) at home with the flu who gave you the tickets. Major credibility issue for me. Possible? Yes, but again seriously doubtful.
Additionally, every sight and smell of scenery, food and drink, people's clothing, etc. for a period of about 30 years is recalled with apparent "photographic memory" throughout the entire book. I assume this is to pull the reader in by using all 5 senses, and that works as a nice touch, but it's questionable in a memoir when the terms "Red Sox," "Manhattan" and "Harvard" are like words the author has never heard of.
These credibility factors are hard to dismiss when reading other scenes, fight scenes primarily, that are pretty extreme and graphic. Makes me wonder where the lines are drawn between literary license and real memoir. Ultimately, the parts that I loved involved the inner thoughts and developments of the characters and relationships, which will stay with me.
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