I have been listing to a lot of audiobooks the past six months. Partly because I am too tired to read at night and because I don't sit down often. Partly it replaces the television I sometimes play while binding books or folding hundreds of cards. But also it is a form unto itself, hearing the author speak the words they wrote, a rehearsed story in their own voice. I mostly listen to books ready by the author. When I realized I could borrow them for free from my library and listen to them on my phone, I found I preferred it to music while running the printing presses.
I like to browse sometimes when I am procrastinating, making a list of books I will someday listen to, so that it is easier to find something when I have hours of printing ahead, I had chosen Andre Dubus III's Townie because I read short stories by his father when I was in high school and they were one of a few books that carried me through my last months in New Hampshire, to Boston and away. I still have the collection I bought at a Barnes and Noble in 1994 with a Christmas gift card.
I guess I forgot their family ties to New Hampshire and Massachusetts, probably because at the time I had not lived anywhere else and did not long for its familiarity. But from the opening minute of Townie, I am reminded in voice and tone and words about kids I grew up with. The curse words, the this accents turning "fuck" into "fahhhck". How it is different than my dad's Boston speech, how I could hear the difference in my cousins' voices but could never articulate it. This book is dark, stories of hard times, of growing up poor and tough, in run down mill towns. These are places I knew a little as an adult, though by the time I got to Newburyport, 20 years after it appears in the book, the downtown has been spruced up, a cute movie theater played art films, the bus stopping on its way from Boston to UNH.
It is not my story or my background but I can see the similarities in some of my middle school friends. I grew up more middle class but our town was obviously divided, our middle school on the rougher side of town. My parents divorced when I was 12 or so, leaving my mom to work more, leaving us home alone. My sister's friends got drunk in the woods on school holidays but mostly we stayed out of trouble. But the trouble was there. This book is familiar as a distant possibility, as a life that would not have been mine but was just on the periphery. Even the sexism and misogyny, the testosterone driven revenge and impotent anger that wells up in response to threat to his sister or girlfriend, is part of what I grew up with.
As a story, as a piece of literature, the violence is endless and the story intertwined. But it is hard for me to separate this from my own stories, even now as I have friends in Haverhill, Massachusetts (say HAYvril) or Lowell. When the author begins a chapter about moving to an apartment in Lynn, my brain automatically repeated the rhyme my family would chant Lynn Lynn City of Sin, you never go out the way you came in... (my great Aunt lived in Lynn for a bit) and the moments later the author was repeating it. Apparently it was known outside my family.
I can't tell you if you would like this if you didn't grow up there. So here, listen to this, the accent I never got, the secret side of my hometown, one of the soundtracks to my adolescence.
I am working on a few zine, Where You From number 4, which will be stories from my hometown. Maybe this will be part of it. Maybe this is just more to think about.