Dubus' willingness to share his shame and brutality is a key to "Townie," which is uncommonly revealing about both. But even more, it allows him to focus the same sharp lens on his family — writing about his older sister's rape, which catalyzed a sense of anger and paranoia (afterward, his father started carrying handguns), or his younger brother's suicide attempts.
No one is more scrutinized here than the elder Dubus, who died in 1999. He is both an absence and a presence, a spectral figure in his children's childhood and later a drinking buddy, a compatriot, once they reach a certain age. This makes for a vivid tension, with Dubus seeking his approval as he reminds us that "[w]hen trouble came, our father just was not the man we'd ever turned to." Now, he says, "I don't think I could have written this if he was alive. It's the primal loyalty, and the last thing I want to do is to betray my parents."