Synopses & Reviews
“A bracing and no-nonsense memoir, infused with fresh takes on love, death, and human nature.” — Kirkus Reviews
, starred review
As with many of us, the life of acclaimed novelist Howard Norman has had its share of incidents of “arresting strangeness.” Yet few of us connect these moments, as Norman has done in this spellbinding memoir, to show how life tangles with the psyche to become art. Norman’s story begins with a portrait, both harrowing and hilarious, of a Midwest boyhood summer working in a bookmobile, in the shadow of a grifter father and under the erotic tutelage of his brother’s girlfriend. His life story continues in places as far-flung as the Arctic, where he spends part of a decade as a translator of Inuit tales—including the story of a soapstone carver turned into a goose whose migration-time lament is “I hate to leave this beautiful place”—and in his beloved Point Reyes, California, as a student of birds. In the Arctic, he receives news over the radio that “John Lennon was murdered tonight in the city of New York in the USA.” And years later, in Washington, D.C., another act of deeply felt violence occurs in the form of a murder-suicide when Norman and his wife loan their home to a poet and her young son. Norman’s story is also stitched together with moments of uncanny solace. Of life in his Vermont farmhouse Norman writes, “Everything I love most happens most every day.”
In the hands of Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist and What Is Left the Daughter, life’s arresting strangeness is made into a profound, creative, and redemptive memoir.
"Starred review. Powerful, haunting. . . . Beautifully written and bursting with life." Laura Miller, < i=""> The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia <> Salon.com
"Starred Review. In this gritty and gripping memoir, Dubus bares his soul in stunning and page-turning prose." Kirkus Reviews
"When Dubus' parents (his father was the revered short-story writer Andre Dubus Jr.) split up, he, his mother and his two siblings were relegated to a financially precarious existence in a New England mill town. He found their working-class neighborhood to be a realm of peril, where drugs, petty crime and...pointless violence lurked around every corner. Survival meant cultivating a hard, aggressively macho carapace, but Dubus' occasional visits with his father showed him that there was a world of thought, tranquility and art out there somewhere, however inaccessible it seemed. The inspiration offered by these encounters was equaled only by the pain of his exile. Townie is the story of how Dubus made the journey to his own writer's life, and also of how he almost didn't make it. Unsparing and occasionally brutal, but never bitter, it's an exceptionally eloquent depiction of...what it feels like to be left behind.
Townie, in addition to probing the wounds of class and family, explains how the son became, like his father, a writer... Long before the end of Townie it becomes evident that Dubus reached a maturity his father never quite attained. His growing up may have been hard, but he grew up all the way." Donna Seaman Booklist
"Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2011: Rarely has the process of becoming a writer seemed as organic and--dare I say it--moral as it does in Andre Dubus III's clear-eyed and compassionate memoir, Townie. You might think that following his father's trade would have been natural and even obvious for the son and namesake of Andre Dubus, one of the most admired short story writers of his time, but it was anything but. His father left when he was 10, and as his mother worked long hours to keep them fed, her four children mostly raised themselves, stumbling through house parties and street fights in their Massachusetts mill town, so cut off from the larger world that when someone mentioned "Manhattan" when Andre was in college he didn't know what they were talking about. What he did know, and what he recalls with detailed intensity, were the battles in bars and front yards, brutal to men and women alike, that first gave him discipline, as he built himself from a fearful kid into a first-punch, hair-trigger bruiser, and then empathy, as, miraculously, he pulled himself back from the violence that threatened to define him. And it was out of that empathy that, wanting to understand the stories of the victims of brutality as well as those whose pain drove them to dish it out, he began to write, reconciling with his father and eventually giving us novels like House of Sand and Fog and now this powerful and big-hearted memoir." Tom Nissley
"Starred Review. Townie is a resolute story about the forging of a writer in fire and blood and a wrenching journey through the wreckage of New England's lost factory world during the Vietnam War era. But Dubus wasn't born into poverty, rage, and violence. His father, an ex-marine officer turned celebrated writer and adored college professor, initially settled his first family in the bucolic countryside. But the marriage failed, "Pop" moved out, and the four kids and their overwhelmed mother plunged into impoverished small-town hell. Dubus, a target for bullies, and his equally complex and resilient siblings were hungry, neglected, and imperiled within a storm of druggy nihilism and bloodlust. Dubus survived by lifting weights and learning to fight, but his unbridled aggression, even on the side of good, exacted a spiritual toll. Although their charismatic father was oblivious to his children's suffering, he was not unloving, and when an accident left him confined to a wheelchair, their support was profound. Dubus chronicles each traumatic incident and realization in stabbing detail. So chiseled are his dramatic memories, his shocking yet redemptive memoir of self-transformation feels like testimony under oath as well as hard-hammered therapy, coalescing, ultimately, in a generous, penetrating, and cathartic dissection of misery and fury, creativity and forgiveness, responsibility and compassion." Amazon
"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a luminous memoir that digs deep into territory I've longed to read about in black men's writing: into the horror of being submerged in a vast drowning swirl of racial, spiritual, and sexual complexity, only to somehow find one's self afloat, though gasping for breath, and then, at long last and at great cost, swimming. I believe both Ancestors and Descendants will cheer."
"Some truths cannot be taught, only learned through stories - profoundly personal and startlingly honest accounts that open not only our eyes but also our hearts to painful and complicated social realities. Charles Blow's memoir tells these kinds of truths. No one who reads this book will be able to forget it. It lays bare in so many ways what is beautiful, cruel, hopeful and despairing about race, gender, class and sexuality in the American South and our nation as a whole. This book is more than a personal triumph; it is a true gift to us all."
—MICHELLE ALEXANDER, author of The New Jim Crow
"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a profoundly moving memoir of Charles Blow's coming of age as a black boy in the Deep South; of the way his sensitive and gifted intelligence slowly begins to kindle, becoming ablaze with wonder at the world and his place in it. Above all, this is the story of a courageously honest man arriving at his decision to 'stop running like the river . . . and just be the ocean, vast, deep, and exactly where it was always meant to be.' Blow has written a classic memoir of a truly American childhood."
—HENRY LOUIS GATES
"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a heart-stopping memoir: a portrait of the artist—the exceptionally talented columnist Charles Blow—that also puts a searing face on all sorts of abstractions, like poverty, race, sexuality, and a human persistence sometimes known as courage. So particular yet gracefully timeless is this evocation of childhood that I sometimes felt as if I were reading an update of To Kill a Mockingbird, in which the poor, black protagonist’s moral education destines him to endure, and prevail."
—DIANE McWHORTER, author of Carry Me Home
"Stunning...Blow's words grab hold of you like a fever that shakes you up at first but eventually leads you to a place of healing."
—Essence"[Fire Shut Up In My Bones] is the most compelling read of the fall and the kind of book that will inspire you to turn off the TV and curl up in front of the fire instead."—BET.com
"Blow masterfully evokes the sights, sounds and smells of rough-and-tumble, backwater Louisiana...a well-written, often poetic memoir"
"Page by elegant page, Charles Blow has constructed an eloquent and courageous memoir that explains why black and white is never just that—whether it comes to race or the rich, conflicted stew of childhood memory."
—GWEN IFILL, moderator, Washington Week, and co-anchor, PBS NewsHour
"Brave and powerful . . . a singular look at a neglected America."
"When you finish Charles Blow's mesmerizing memoir, you will cry. And you will better understand poverty, the south, racism, sex, fear, rage, and love. Then you will miss being in his authorial grip. Then you will start reading this stunning book again."
"Charles Blow is a fellow Louisianan. His memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, warmed and tickled my bones. The memoir takes its title from a passage from the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament: 'His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.' I am supremely glad Blow can no longer hold his own story inside and has chosen to share it with us. From a small town kid growing up in extreme poverty in the segregationist Deep South to a columnist at The New York Times, Blow is an absolute treasure and his powerful story deserves to be heard."
"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a masterwork of remarkable power, authenticity and honesty. Blow writes with passion about coming of age in a rural Louisiana community suffering from the ravages of racism and poverty. His riveting memoir frankly takes on sexuality, religion and social hierarchy in the African-American community and reveals the inner soul of one of America's most intriguing public intellectuals."
—DARREN WALKER, president of the Ford Foundation
"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is an instant classic of American letters. Charles Blow's eloquent memoir is haunted by surges of pain and suffering that rarely escape into the open with such searing honesty. Blow's brilliant and self-critical narrative contains truths which no American can afford to ignore, and which few black men have dared to tell. In this irresistible story of the journalist as a besieged boy and determined young man, one of the nation's foremost social critics bares his soul and speaks his mind with redemptive clarity."
—MICHAEL ERIC DYSON
"I missed him the moment I read the last word. Charles Blow's delicate, dangerously vulnerable journey from boyhood to manhood to himself, takes hold of you like a long lost friend you don't ever want to let out of your sight again. Fire Shut Up In My Bones finally, exquisitely gives voice to the complex and gloriously diverse Black American male identity. A modern memoir that reads like a great classic novel, it's the kind of masterful storytelling that divides folks into those who have read and those who have not. I am forever grateful to be among the privileged haves."
—MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS
"Charles Blow has given us an enormous gift with this penetrating and honest memoir. I could not put it down, riveted by the journey, with no idea where it was taking me but deeply illuminated by the end. Blow opens up his life, growing up in the Deep South, and shines a light on the complexities and diversity of sexual identity in a way that can only help advance the march toward equality."
—MICHELANGELO SIGNORILE, author of Queer in America
"It takes a great deal of courage to divulge your deepest secrets to the world, but Charles Blow shares the story of his personal journey from a rare place of honesty, especially for such a celebrated public figure. In Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Blow has constructed a beautifully crafted, timeless story of coming of age in the face of betrayal, adversity, and self-doubt. I expect this memoir will not only resonate today but will also enlighten and inspire readers for years to come."
"This book is an elegant heartache. Charles Blow's story is by no means an easy one, but he tells it beautifully, a gorgeous read about a gorgeous little boy striving to become himself amidst a world discouraging him from doing so. Blow does an astonishing job of intertwining hardship with humor, pain alongside pleasure, revealing his signature talent for prose that is transcendently poetic at the same time it's grounded in microscopic details of life and insight."
"Charles Blow is one of the most astute literary voices we have in America today. His is an eye that sees inside our communities, inside our world, inside himself, in a way that not only makes us think, but permits us to feel, to be, to change."
"Boldness shines through."
“Normans tale is conversational, elegant, and full of life…All Normans stories - even the last, of a tragedy visited on him and his family, another intimation of death-are related with grace. He shows that the pleasures of the memoir often lie not in a life of dramatic incident but in the flights and transfigurations of a contemplative mind.” - Jane Smiley, Harper's
"Some books celebrate the human condition; others commiserate with us. This memoir does both, and offers fine, subtly fey companionship to boot." - Helen Oyeyemi, NPR.org
"Five stellar personal essays by Norman that shed light on his melancholy, tragedy-struck fiction and larger human failures....A bracing, no-nonsense memoir, infused with fresh takes on love, death and human nature." - STARRED Kirkus
After their parents divorced in the 1970s, Andre Dubus III and his three siblings grew up with their overworked mother in a depressed Massachusetts mill town saturated with drugs and everyday violence. Nearby, his father, an eminent author, taught on a college campus and took the kids out on Sundays. The clash between town and gown, between the hard drinking, drugging, and fighting of "townies" and the ambitions of students debating books and ideas, couldn't have been more stark. In this unforgettable memoir, acclaimed novelist Dubus shows us how he escaped the cycle of violence and found empathy in channeling the stories of others--bridging, in the process, the rift between his father and himself.
"Dubus relives, absent self-pity or blame, a life shaped by bouts of violence and flurries of tenderness."--Vanity Fair
Won Book of the Year Adult Non-Fiction--2012 Indie Choice Awards Amazon Best Book of the Month February 2011 "Dubus relives, absent self-pity or blame, a life shaped by bouts of violence and flurries of tenderness."--
A gorgeous, moving memoir of how one of America’s most innovative and respected journalists found his voice by coming to terms with a painful past
A memoir of the haunting and redemptive events of the acclaimed writer's life—the betrayal of a con-man father; a murder-suicide in his family's house; the presence of an oystercatcher—each one, as the saying goes, stranger than fiction.
“The events of a single episode of Howard Normans superb memoir are both on the edge of chaos and gathered superbly into coherent meaning . . . A wise, riskily written, beautiful book.” — Michael Ondaatje
Howard Normans spellbinding memoir begins with a portrait, both harrowing and hilarious, of a Midwest boyhood summer working in a bookmobile, in the shadow of a grifter father and under the erotic tutelage of his brothers girlfriend. His life story continues in places as far-flung as the Arctic, where he spends part of a decade as a translator of Inuit tales—including the story of a soapstone carver turned into a goose whose migration-time lament is “I hate to leave this beautiful place”—and in his beloved Point Reyes, California, as a student of birds. Years later, in Washington, D.C., an act of deeply felt violence occurs in the form of a murder-suicide when Norman and his wife loan their home to a poet and her young son. In Normans hands, lifes arresting strangeness is made into a profound, creative, and redemptive story.
“Uses the tight focus of geography to describe five unsettling periods of his life, each separated by time and subtle shifts in his narrative voice . . . The originality of his telling here is as surprising as ever.” — Washington Post
“These stories almost seem like tall tales themselves, but Norman renders them with a journalistic attention to detail. Amidst these bizarre experiences, he finds solace through the places hes lived and their quirky inhabitants, human and avian.” — The New Yorker
A New York Times Notable Book
"Searing and unforgettable." —People
"[An] exquisite memoir . . . Delicately wrought and arresting in its language, this slender volume covers a great deal of emotional terrain—much of it fraught, most of it arduous, and all of it worth the trip." —New York Times
Charles M. Blow's mother was a fiercely driven woman with five sons, brass knuckles in her glove box, and a job plucking poultry at a factory near their town in segregated Louisiana, where slavery's legacy felt close. When her philandering husband finally pushed her over the edge, she fired a pistol at his fleeing back, missing every shot, thanks to "love that blurred her vision and bent the barrel." Charles was the baby of the family, fiercely attached to his "do-right" mother. Until one day that divided his life into Before and After—the day an older cousin took advantage of the young boy. The story of how Charles escaped that world to become one of America's most innovative and respected journalists is a searing, redemptive journey that works its way into the deepest chambers of the heart.
About the Author
Two of Howard Normans novels, The Northern Lights (1987) and The Bird Artist (1994), were nominated for the National Book Award. His other novels include The Museum Guard, The Haunting of L, Devotion, and What is Left the Daughter. His books have been translated into twelve languages. Norman is the recipient of a Lannan Award in fiction, and he teaches at the University of Maryland.
Table of Contents
Advice of the Fatherly Sort
Grey Geese Descending
I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place
The Healing Powers of the