Bill McKeen's Book Blog: Andre Dubus III's memoir Townie, Julian Sher's sex trafficking exposé Somebody's Daughter

Last time we heard from Andre Dubus III, he was taking the tawdriness of a Sarasota strip club and turning it into great art.

That was The Garden of Last Days, a novel by Dubus (rhymes with caboose) speculating on what the 9-11 hijackers did in the last days before flying their planes into the twin towers.

That novel joined the already Oprah-sized House of Sand and Fog to put Dubus on the center stage of young American novelists.

Now, with Townie (W.W. Norton, $25.95), Dubus turns to memoir to  tell the story of his early years.

The “III” after his name might tell you the something. This Dubus is the latest in a literary line. His father was a renowned essayist and short-story writer, and part of Townie is about the son’s great love and admiration for his father.

But it’s also the story of a man who leaves his family, sentencing them to a life of struggle while he accepts the fame and accolades that come with being recognized as a Great American Writer.

With a minimum of whining but a maximum of insight, Dubus takes us through the struggles of adolescence (hard enough as it is) with a strong-willed and determined mother who raised four children against enormous odds – including the fact that her children loved intensely the man who had broken her heart.

And son does love father. As the absent parent, he was, at times, the easiest to love. Mother, who dealt with the day-to-day mundanities and dramas, was the one who had it tough. Dubus learns that loving one is not betraying the other, and coming out of a divorce with such wisdom should be more common.

This book requires no familiarity with the work of either Dubus. It’s a great and heartbreaking story of a shattered family and how each member struggles to survive. Luckily for Dubus, there was writing. It was, as H.L. Mencken said of his craft, "a way out."

NOBODY’S CHILD: Dubus demonstrates how difficult adolescence can be. But the lives of the young women in Somebody’s Daughter (Chicago Review Press, $24.95) by Julian Sher will have you weeping. The world Sher describes goes far beyond the tragic.