Thursday, December 03, 2009

Friday Fiction: Richard Russo, an East Coast Author with an Arizona Education

--by Hanje Richards

Born in New York, now living in Maine, Richard Russo earned a Bachelor’s degree, a Master of Fine Arts degree, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Arizona, which he attended from 1967 through 1979. His first novel, Mohawk, was published while he was teaching in the English Department at Southern Illinois University (Carbondale) in 1986. In 2002, Empire Falls won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction His most recent novel, That Old Cape Magic, was published in August 2009.

Bridge of Sighs: Louis Charles Lynch (also known as Lucy) is sixty years old and has lived in Thomaston, New York, his entire life. He and Sarah, his wife of forty years, are about to embark on a vacation to Italy. Lucy's oldest friend, once a rival for his wife's affection, leads a life in Venice far removed from Thomaston. Perhaps for this reason, Lucy is writing the story of his town, his family, and his own life that makes up this rich and mesmerizing novel, interspersed with that of the native son who left so long ago and has never looked back.

Empire Falls: Miles Roby has been slinging 'burgers at the Empire Grill for 20 years, a job that cost him his college education and much of his self-respect. What keeps him there? In Empire Falls, Russo delves deep into the blue-collar heart of America in a work that overflows with hilarity, heartache, and grace.

Mohawk: Mohawk, New York, is one of those small towns that lie almost entirely on the wrong side of the tracks. Its citizens, too, have fallen on hard times. Dallas Younger, a star athlete in high school, now drifts from tavern to poker game, losing money, and, inevitably, another set of false teeth. His ex-wife, Anne, is stuck in a losing battle with her mother over the care of her sick father. And their son, Randall, is deliberately neglecting his school work--because in a place like Mohawk it doesn't pay to be too smart.

Risk Pool: Set in Mohawk, New York, where Ned Hall is doing his best to grow up -- even though neither of his estranged parents can properly be called adult. His father, Sam, cultivates bad habits so assiduously that he is stuck at the bottom of his auto insurance risk pool. His mother, Jenny, is slowly going crazy from resentment at a husband who refuses either to stay or to stay away. As Ned veers between allegiances to these grossly inadequate role models, Richard Russo gives us a book that overflows with outsized characters and outlandish predicaments and whose vision of family is at once irreverent and unexpectedly moving.

That Old Cape Magic: The story of a marriage, and of all the other ties that bind, from parents and in-laws to children and the promises of youth. That Old Cape Magic is a novel of deep introspection and every family feeling imaginable, with a middle-aged man confronting his parents and their failed marriage, his own troubled one, his daughter’s new life and what it was he thought he wanted and what, in fact, he has.

The Whore’s Child and Other Stories: Russo’s themes are the imperfect bargains of marriage; the discoveries and disillusionments of childhood; the unwinnable battles men and women insist on fighting with the past.
In some of these stories:
  • a cynical Hollywood moviemaker confronts his dead wife’s lover and abruptly realizes the depth of his own passion;
  • a precocious fifth-grader distracts himself with meditations on baseball, spaghetti, and his place in the universe as his parents’ marriage disintegrates;
  • and, in the title story, an elderly nun enters a college creative writing class and plays havoc with its tidy notions of fact and fiction.

As always, if the book you are looking for is currently checked out, you can put a hold on it so when it does become available, you will be notified. Enjoy!