Local authors appeal in memoir and fiction

We love movies set in locations we know: witness The Fighter, set in Lowell, and The Town, set in Charlestown. The appeal of the familiar works in print as well, notably Andre Dubus’ powerful memoir Townie, set in Haverhill, Newburyport and other parts of the Merrimack Valley, and Bone Blind, a mystery novel set in Newton, Wellfleet and Boston.

Dubus III was one of four children abandoned by author and essayist Andre Dubus II of Haverhill, who taught at the (now defunct) Bradford College and was a friend of Kurt Vonnegut and John Updike. Dubus père walked out on the family, leaving their hard-working mother to rear them against a backdrop of poverty, urban violence, frequent moves, alcohol and drugs. Though the father and Andre Dubus III reconciled in later years, especially after the father was mowed down by a car while assisting another motorist in distress, the son never had the benefit of responsible adult male guidance, fell into petty crime and substance abuse, and dealt with the world by using his fists. (In his early years, he actually tried to become a boxer but mostly he earned a living by bar tending and janitorial pursuits. )

That he gradually overcame his reflexive primitive pugilistic ways, went to college and became an accomplished writer (author of National Book Award short-list-honored House of Sand and Fog) is remarkable, to say the least. His candid new memoir, Townie, reflects the same milieu portrayed in The Fighter. While the violence is unrelenting, it speaks to what growing up was like for many in our formerly robust mill towns in northeastern Massachusetts.

Bone Blind by mystery novelist Abigail Padgett is set in Newton, Wellfleet and Boston. The principal protagonist is a mystery writer who lives in Newton Highlands. His female person of interest is also a mystery writer, living in Wellfleet, and the story also advances due to the investigation by a Newton police detective of crimes perpetrated in the present and also 20 years ago. I won’t spoil it for you by telling you who dunnit and who ends up dead. I will say that Padgett is a good story teller, who weaves the threads of different mysteries cleverly enough to keep the reader engaged and, while it’s not great literature, it’s fun to see one’s own hometown show up in print, as on the silver screen.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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