Richard Russo 1949-
American novelist, screenwriter, and short story writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Russo's career through 2002.
Awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for the novel Empire Falls (2001), Russo is noted for his evocative depictions of blue-collar life in depressed Northeastern towns and the struggles of emotionally scarred sons to come to terms with absent or abusive father figures. In Mohawk (1986), The Risk Pool (1988), and Nobody's Fool (1993), all set in rural upstate New York, Russo presents large casts of realistic, often eccentric characters—worn-out shopkeepers and odd-jobbers, alcoholics, invalids, rogues, and ne'er-do-wells—whose tragicomic lives are emblematic of the dignity and insular depravity of decaying rust-belt towns. Russo has also earned distinction for his comic academic novel, Straight Man (1997), as well as coauthoring the screenplay for the Hollywood film Twilight (1998).
Born in Johnstown, New York, to James W. Russo and Jean Findlay Russo, Russo grew up in the small, upstate New York town of Gloversville. His father, a construction worker, left the family when Russo was young. Russo studied English at the University of Arizona, earning his bachelor's degree in 1971 and completing a doctorate in American literature in 1980. While working on his dissertation, Russo realized that he wanted to write fiction rather than academic nonfiction. He spent a year working on his fiction writing skills while completing his dissertation and earned a master of fine arts degree in creative writing in 1981. During the summers, Russo worked as a manual laborer on construction and road crews, experiences that, coupled with his rural upbringing in the Northeast, helped shape his later fiction. Russo's 1986 debut novel, Mohawk, introduced readers to the author's central recurring theme—the plight of failing small towns in the United States and the effects of the decline on their inhabitants. Russo wrote his next novel, The Risk Pool, while his father was dying; the story is based in part on their relationship. Following the publication of two additional novels, Nobody's Fool and Straight Man, Russo collaborated with director Robert Benton on the screenplay for Twilight, a film starring Hollywood legend Paul Newman and actors Gene Hackman, James Garner, and Susan Sarandon. Newman starred in the critically acclaimed 1994 film adaptation of Russo's novel Nobody's Fool, which was also directed by Benton. Russo taught at several universities, including Southern Illinois University and Colby College in Waterville, Maine, before turning to writing full-time. He resides in Maine with his wife and two daughters. In addition to winning the Pulitzer, Russo was named a Pennsylvania Council of Arts fellow in 1983 and received the Annual Award for Fiction from the Society of Midland Authors in 1989 for The Risk Pool.
Russo's first two novels, Mohawk and The Risk Pool, are set in the fictional town of Mohawk, located in upstate New York. Mohawk opens in 1967 as the town's once thriving leather trade business is on the wane. The novel explores the obscure relationship and long-standing animosity between two elderly leather workers, Mather Grouse and Rory Gaffney. Their rivalry is played out among Mather's daughter, grandson, and various in-laws, resulting in a botched revenge scheme against Rory and wrongful accusations of murder. Some of the minor characters from Mohawk reappear in The Risk Pool, which centers upon a complex father-son relationship. The father, Sam Hall, returns from World War II to his wife, Jenny, who quickly becomes pregnant. When their son, Ned, is born, Sam has no desire to see him and disappears for the first six years of Ned's life. Upon his father's return, Ned, who narrates the novel, spends the rest of his childhood and adolescence being shuttled between his estranged parents, the alcoholic Sam and the mentally ill Jenny. Nobody's Fool continues Russo's focus on torturous father-son relationships with the story of the Sullivan family, four generations of misfits and failures. Set in the hamlet of North Bath, a moribund locale in upstate New York, the novel centers on Donald “Sully” Sullivan, the “nobody's fool” of the title. His warm, caring relationship with his grandson, Will, lends Sully the strength to confront memories of his abusive father and, eventually, to mend relations with his son and the North Bath community. A departure from his first two novels, Straight Man is an academic satire set in Pennsylvania. The protagonist, Hank Devereaux, is a marginal English professor at West Central Pennsylvania University, a small, nondescript institution. Devereaux is elected interim chair of the department because he is considered so incompetent that he cannot possibly upset the tenuous equilibrium among the below-average but mostly tenured faculty. He surprises everyone, including himself, when he assumes leadership and attempts to rescue the jobs of his colleagues, which are threatened by draconian budget cuts from the administration.
Empire Falls, Russo's fifth novel, reprises the blue-collar world of his earlier books, and is set in a dying mill town in Maine. The title comes from the name of the town, but it also resonates with the narrative's larger theme of dissolution. Empire Falls is almost entirely owned by the powerful Whiting clan, owners of the now defunct textile mill that was the town's primary industry. The patriarch of the family, the deceased C. B. Whiting, tried in vain to change the course of the powerful Knox River that runs through the town, and throughout the novel, various attempts to change the course of nature and destiny figure prominently. The novel's protagonist, Miles Roby, forsakes a college education and a possible academic career to return to Empire Falls to care for his ailing mother. Mrs. Francine Whiting—C. B. Whiting's widow and Miles's mother's former employer—allows Miles to run the Empire Grill diner where he works for the next twenty years, abandoning his past ambitions. As the novel opens, Miles's wife, Janine, who despairs his lack of motivation, has left him for an obnoxious local health club owner and frequent patron of the Empire Grill. Miles's one hope is that his teenage daughter, Tick, will escape Empire Falls, as he once intended. The book is also narrated from Tick's point of view in present-tense chapters that chronicle her growing frustration with the adult world. At school, Tick befriends an alienated loner named John Voss, whose murky history of loss and abuse comes to a violent conclusion in the novel's denouement. The depressed atmosphere of the failing small-town is further embodied by Miles's father, Max, a shifty though amiable layabout who frequently abandoned his family during Miles's youth. Miles and Tick's present-tense narration is alternated by italicized chapters that explore the history of Empire Falls and the complicated past that binds the Roby and Whiting families. The Whore's Child and Other Stories (2002), Russo's first collection of short fiction, features seven stories—two of which deal with the familiar blue-collar world of Russo's novels, while three feature academic settings reminiscent of Straight Man. The title story follows a Belgian nun who audits a creative writing class, bares her soul in a sordid memoir, and then is discomfited when her work is reinterpreted by the class. “Joy Ride” tells the story of a mother fleeing from her husband with her teenage son in tow; “Poison” is about the reunion of a pair of fifty-something writers; “The Farther You Go” presents an oddly sympathetic abusive husband; and “Monhegan Light” features a cinematographer who confronts his late wife's lover.
Russo has been consistently praised for his ability to sketch vivid portraits of hardscrabble working-class life in the blighted small towns of the American Northeast. Though his prose has been routinely regarded as competent and lucid, it has been his characterizations and mix of deadpan humor and knowing compassion that have earned him special distinction. Critics have noted that the broad scope and sprawling casts of characters of his novels display Russo's affinity for nineteenth-century authors, most notably Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. However, almost all of Russo's works have been criticized for excessive length, which some reviewers have argued weaken his numerous characterizations and circuitous subplots. Despite such claims, most commentators have insisted that Russo's narratives are rarely boring, but that his tendency to overwrite results in unnecessary repetitions and predictability. Others have objected to the recurring elements of sentimentality and melodrama in Russo's work, particularly in the conclusions of Mohawk and Empire Falls. Some critics have disagreed with this assertion, instead praising Russo's willingness to sublimate style to portraiture and to celebrate humanity through the lives of ordinary people living in small communities. While The Risk Pool has drawn acclaim for its gritty realism, Nobody's Fool and Straight Man have been lauded for their sharp comedy and deft characterizations. Empire Falls, considered Russo's most ambitious and mature work to date, has been widely praised for its rich multigenerational story, engaging characters, and bittersweet emotional themes. Russo's short fiction in The Whore's Child and Other Stories has been similarly well-received, with reviewers admiring the author's eye for detail and mordant wit.
Mohawk (novel) 1986
The Risk Pool (novel) 1988
Nobody's Fool (novel) 1993
Straight Man (novel) 1997
Twilight [with Robert Benton] (screenplay) 1998
Empire Falls (novel) 2001
The Whore's Child and Other Stories (short stories) 2002
(The entire section is 28 words.)
SOURCE: Montrose, David. “Fightin' an' Feudin'.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4379 (6 March 1987): 246.
[In the following excerpt, Montrose praises Russo's structure and characterization in Mohawk, but faults the novel for elements of melodrama and excessive length.]
Small-town USA (North-eastern variety) is the milieu for each of these first novels. Richard Russo's Mohawk is a declining leather town in upstate New York, Cathie Pelletier's Mattagash a lumber town whose rusticity and isolation are exceptional even by the standards of backwoods Maine. The similarities do not end there. Both novels are preoccupied with ties of blood and emotion. They share, too, a structure which intersperses the central plot with scenes from their characters' personal histories.
Set in 1967, the opening section of Mohawk revolves around the mysterious bond between two antithetical old men: upright Mather Grouse, a retired leather-cutter in precarious health, and Rory Gaffney, a detested one-time workmate who has long exerted a baneful influence on his life. Gaffney is the father of the “town moron”, Wild Bill, fifteen years earlier a normal teenager (with a crush on Mather's daughter, Anne) until “damaged” in an unexplained “accident”. The clarification of these interconnected enigmas proceeds slowly, impeded as it is by the regular introduction of fresh...
(The entire section is 489 words.)
SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Sticking around with Dad.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (13 September 1988): 3, 8.
[In the following review, Eder comments that, despite the novel's “impeccable” realism, the weak protagonist in The Risk Pool ultimately makes the novel a “bore.”]
The American archetype, the loner, the cowboy, the man who rides into town, gives it a clout or two and rides off into the sunset: His virtue, above all, is to ride off.
He doesn't stick around. Around, he wouldn't be interesting. Around, he would be a pest.
For around, in life and fiction, we need another kind of character: one who works into society and tugs its strings—if not so hard as to bring it all down, then just hard enough to alter its shape and make it budge; and who gets entangled in those strings, has his own shape altered, and budges.
The narrator of Richard Russo's The Risk Pool is an uneasy settled man whose story is a lament for his cowboy father. Sam Hall—as in the song “My Name it is Sam Hall, and I hate you one and all”—is a becalmed cowboy who sticks around.
In fact, he is a highway construction worker and not a cowboy; he lives in a depressed Upstate New York town and not in the West, and he runs off periodically. But it amounts to sticking around. He always comes back.
(The entire section is 1116 words.)
SOURCE: Wolitzer, Hilma. “Richard Russo's Tale of a Reckless Father and a Sensitive Son.” Chicago Tribune Books (30 October 1988): 1.
[In the following review, Wolitzer compliments Russo's “remarkable fix on blue-collar life in small-town America” in The Risk Pool but criticizes the novel for underdeveloped female characters.]
As he clearly demonstrated in Mohawk, his fine first novel, Richard Russo has a remarkable fix on blue-collar life in small-town America. His second novel also takes place in fictive Mohawk, in upstate New York, and has some of the same peripheral characters. Once again, Russo brilliantly evokes the economic and emotional depression of a failing town, a place where even the weather is debilitating and the inhabitants seem to struggle merely to stay in place. Although The Risk Pool is not as intricately plotted as Mohawk, it is a far more ambitious work, with a Dickensian sprawl and charm.
The narrative is broken into four sections, named for the “seasons” of the year in Mohawk: “Fourth of July,” “Mohawk Fair,” “Eat the Bird” and “Winter.” The narrator is Ned Hall, who reviews the adventure of his childhood and adolescence from the perspective of his 35th year and the brink of fatherhood. But first he looks backward to a time before his own birth, just after the end of World War II, and reconstructs the events...
(The entire section is 1077 words.)
SOURCE: McConkey, James. “Life with Father and Son.” Washington Post Book World 18, no. 48 (27 November 1988): 7.
[In the following review, McConkey argues that the “great triumph” of The Risk Pool lies in the novel's complex father-son relationship.]
Richard Russo's second novel returns us to the locale of his first, Mohawk (1986)—Mohawk being the name he gives that northern New York town peopled with characters of his imagination but apparently based on the actual Gloversville.
The Risk Pool is less a sequel than a palimpsest of that highly praised first novel. The two books chronicle much of the same time span, and a number of the minor characters from the first reappear in the second. While the two major characters of The Risk Pool are new to it, the reader can catch in their depiction certain glimmerings of their origin in the earlier work. Ned Hall, the first person narrator of The Risk Pool, emerges from Randall Younger, the central character of the earlier, third-person narrative; and Sam Hall is a striking development of the less life-celebratory Dallas Younger, Randall's father.
I admire Mohawk, but not its manufactured resolution in a melodramatic storm and hospital fire. Russo avoids such a flaw in The Risk Pool—though the novel is even more ambitious. It is both the traditional development novel...
(The entire section is 777 words.)
SOURCE: Abel, Betty. “Quarterly Fiction Review.” Contemporary Review 254, no. 1479 (April 1989): 213-16.
[In the following excerpt, Abel offers a positive assessment of The Risk Pool, calling Russo's prose “witty, easy and nostalgic in tone.”]
Richard Russo's novel The Risk Pool, is another American work that has crossed the Atlantic with every chance of success. Russo achieved fame first with his book entitled Mohawk, a moving love story set in an imaginary New York town. In The Risk Pool Richard Russo returns to Mohawk to unfold the further tale of thirty years in the hell-raising life of Sam Hall. Hall returns from World War II, only to abandon his wife Jenny and their baby Ned. Several years later, he returns in search of his son, thus causing Ned to spend the next twenty years shuttling both physically and emotionally between his estranged parents, trying hard to gain acceptance from his father as earnestly as the father is trying to win the respect and affection of the son he left too early for reconciliation to be achieved without a bitter struggle.
The style is witty, easy and nostalgic in tone so that the characters in the story are real and recognisable. Small-town America is depicted vividly and precisely. The eternal loser, Sam Hall, is an unsuccessful gambler, a heavy drinker and a disastrous driver. Nevertheless, he is inexplicably some...
(The entire section is 330 words.)
SOURCE: Clute, John. “Talk of the Town.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4497 (9-15 June 1989): 634.
[In the following review, Clute asserts that Russo's themes in The Risk Pool are ultimately rewarding though the narrative can be meandering and overlong.]
Those who finish The Risk Pool will fully earn any pleasures Richard Russo may have to offer in this, his second novel about life in the small decaying industrial city of Mohawk, sunk in its worn-down valley some miles upriver from Albany, New York. Russo is not an author to worry about inflicting longueurs on his readers, and in Ned Hall he has found an ideal protagonist for the relentless amplitude of his way with a story. Ned has a ghost to lay—his memories of growing up with a hard-drinking scallywag father—and the great length of The Risk Pool neatly exemplifies the compulsiveness of his need to make sense of things.
There is, in fact, not a great deal to discover; what Ned clearly needs is to find out and reiterate certain truths about himself and his family, again and again, until repetition, and the deaths of most of the cast, can free him from the trammels of his upbringing. Sam Hall comes back home from combat in 1945 and makes his wife Jenny pregnant, but soon flees her obdurate and dispiriting fantasies of domesticity. After she has a mental breakdown, the child Ned goes to live with Sam,...
(The entire section is 504 words.)
SOURCE: Proulx, E. Annie. “What It Takes to Endure the Lost, Stubborn Citizens of Richard Russo's Upstate New York.” Chicago Tribune Books (30 May 1993): 1.
[In the following review, Proulx lauds Russo's comedic prose in Nobody's Fool, noting Russo's recurring examination of child-parent relationships.]
If ever time travel is invented, let Richard Russo be first through the machine to bring back a true account. No one writing today catches the detail of life with such stunning accuracy.
Russo's third novel, Nobody's Fool, is a rude, comic, harsh, galloping story of four generations of small-town losers, the best literary portrait of the backwater burg since “Main Street.” Here is a masterly use of the wisecrack, the minor inflection, the between-the-lines meaning. Heavy messages hang under small-talk like keels under boats. Russo's pointillist technique makes his characters astonishingly real, and gradually the tiny events and details coalesce, build up in meaning and awaken in the reader a desire to climb into the page and ask for a beer.
The setting for Nobody's Fool, as for Russo's two critically acclaimed earlier novels, Mohawk (1986), and The Risk Pool (1988), is upstate New York. The depressed town of Bath is any of a thousand other towns past their best days; a sag in the landscape with high unemployment, a greasy...
(The entire section is 1442 words.)
SOURCE: Mosher, Howard Frank. “The Strife of Bath.” Washington Post Book World 23, no. 23 (6 June 1993): 8.
[In the following review, Mosher praises Russo's deft portrayal of small-town American life in Nobody's Fool, arguing that the novel contains “some of the most darkly yet genuinely funny scenes I've encountered in any recent fiction.”]
“This town will never change,” the proprietor of Hattie's Diner bleakly observes of the decayed old Adirondack resort village of Bath, toward the end of Richard Russo's superb new novel [Nobody's Fool]. On the surface, at least, this assessment seems irrefutable. After all, the mineral springs from which Bath originally took its name ran dry back in 1818; and the village has been tending toward obscurity ever since. Even the lovely old wineglass elms along Upper Main Street in front of Mrs. Beryl People's house are slowly dying, their blackening limbs a menace to the homes they once shaded.
Still, as Beryl's upstairs tenant, the aging jack-of-all-trades Donald “Sully” Sullivan, discovers, everything in the realm of human affairs even in Bath—is mutable. For starters, the town itself seems about to undergo a miraculous economic renaissance. The dilapidated resort hotel, the Sans Souci, is scheduled to reopen soon. Beryl People's banker son Clive (“The Bank,” as Sully facetiously calls him) is scheming night and day...
(The entire section is 830 words.)
SOURCE: Smith, Wendy. “Richard Russo: The Novelist Again Explores the Crucial Impact of Place on Individual Destinies.” Publishers Weekly 240, no. 23 (7 June 1993): 43-4.
[In the following essay, Smith provides an overview of Russo's fiction, publishing history, and literary concerns, including Russo's own comments on his career and work.]
The Old Port section of Portland, Maine, where Richard Russo takes PW [Publishers Weekly] to lunch, is not a place where the author's characters would feel at home. Although Portland suffered a postwar decline not unlike the one that befell Russo's fictional upstate New York town of Mohawk, Old Port has since been gussied up. Brick warehouses now hold craft shops and clothing stores; the quietly tasteful restaurants have nothing in common with the Mohawk Grill, that formica-countered mainstay of communal life in both Mohawk and The Risk Pool; and Sam Hall, feckless antihero of the latter novel, would look in vain for a tavern like The Elms, where he could park his son at the bar to eat peanuts while Sam ran up his tab.
North Bath, N.Y., the setting of Russo's new book, Nobody's Fool, just out from Random House, aspires to gentrification, but protagonist Donald Sullivan is less interested in the restored Sans Souci hotel than in making his regular rounds between Hattie's Lunch, the local OTB parlor and the White...
(The entire section is 2178 words.)
SOURCE: Caldwell, Gail. “The Last Resort.” Boston Globe (27 June 1993): 94, 96.
[In the following review of Nobody's Fool, Caldwell praises Russo's narrative skill and literary vision but finds the novel excessively lengthy and repetitious.]
With his infinite winters and unreflective townfolk, Richard Russo is a master craftsman at broken-pipe realism. He has an anachronistic fondness for sprawling, ordinary life, and his characters are etched large by this grainy intimacy—by the close-focus detail of work endured, love lost, another day gone the way of cruel oblivion. All three of his novels are set in half-defeated hamlets in upstate New York, where foreclosure signs on the main drag compete with old cafes and run-down Victorians. The blue-collar heartache at the center of Russo's fiction has the sheen of Dickens but the epic levity of John Irving; this is a writer whose affection for his characters dominates his every page. By the time his narrative escapades are over, half the cast seems as familiar as the neighborhood bowling alley.
The subject of class is one of the great unmined territories of contemporary fiction; with the exception of Russell Banks (and with the death of Raymond Carver), few nonminority American writers tend to look much further than the outer limit on their VISA cards. In his earlier novels, Mohawk and The Risk Pool, as well as the...
(The entire section is 1196 words.)
SOURCE: Kaveney, Roz. “Bonds Men.” New Statesman and Society 6, no. 263 (30 July 1993): 39-40.
[In the following review, Kaveney commends Russo's “ear for social ritual and the comedy that goes with it” in Nobody's Fool but laments the novel's occasionally stereotypical characterizations.]
Early in this likeable, if blokeish, novel of American small-town life, [Nobody's Fool,] crippled reprobate Sully fails to recognise the source of the quotation (“We wear the chains we forge in life”) of which his former English teacher—Miss Beryl, now his landlady—is so fond. Since Russo makes a point of highlighting it at the beginning and end of the novel, we should pay attention. The alert reader may recognise it as coming from A Christmas Carol; since Russo's novel runs from Thanksgiving to New Year, we may take it that what is enacted here is as much a fairy-tale of redemption as dirty realism.
Russo is obsessed with macho middle-aged headbangers; Sully is nicer than Sam Hall, the father in The Risk Pool, more sensitive about other people's feelings and less compulsive about the more obvious forms of self-destruction. Like Sam, he has been estranged from his son; this novel, like its predecessor, is a myth of father-son reconciliation and its opposite. Sully's inability to forgive his father and brother, his shadow doubles, cripples him almost as much...
(The entire section is 538 words.)
SOURCE: Brzezinski, Steve. Review of Nobody's Fool, by Richard Russo. Antioch Review 52, no. 1 (winter 1994): 173-74.
[In the following review, Brzezinski commends the ambitious scope of the narrative in Nobody's Fool.]
Russo's third novel [Nobody's Fool] is an ambitious look at two topics currently out of favor in American literature: class and small-town America. Though the book is too long by at least 200 pages, it is peopled with extraordinarily well-drawn characters, most of them either poor and struggling or rich and bumbling, whose inevitable mistakes and missteps are chronicled in an excruciatingly comic yet deeply compassionate narrative. Russo's fictional setting of Bath, New York, is a town down on its luck, in slow decline since the interstate highway was built, too far from Albany to experience the economic windfall of suburban gentrification. Much of the plot surrounds the hilariously doomed attempt to restore the town's previous prosperity by convincing fast-buck financiers to build a theme park, The Ultimate Escape, in Bath. The reason the theme park is never built is that the money men ultimately decide that the Bath locals are simply too weird, and, if employed by the park, would scare off and otherwise disconcert the tourist trade.
Weird they are, and Russo's achievement is to invent a completely believable fictional landscape peopled with assorted...
(The entire section is 300 words.)
SOURCE: Montgomery, M. R. “The Brains behind Nobody's Fool.” Boston Globe (26 January 1995): 49, 52.
[In the following essay, Montgomery provides an overview of Russo's life, career, and literary concerns and discusses Russo's work on the film adaptation of Nobody's Fool.]
Richard Russo, novelist (three published to glowing reviews), educator (much-admired teacher of creative writing at Colby College) and seriously competitive racquetball player at the Waterville Downtown Athletic Club in Maine, is becoming a Famous Writer thanks to a movie. Thanks to the Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy movie, Nobody's Fool, now showing at your local theater and already the subject of Oscar rumors.
One of the burdens of fame is the interview and The Standard Question, which, if you write fiction, is about the similarity between the book and your own life. Recently, at WBZ-TV's cavernous studios on Soldiers Field Road, John Henning of The News at Noon asked The Question during a pre-show taping. It is a reasonable one, given that Russo has taught college English like Peter Sullivan (Dylan Walsh) in the movie, had a father who, like Donald “Sully” Sullivan (Paul Newman), the father of Peter and protagonist of Nobody's Fool, worked construction and deserted the family when Russo was a child, and who lived in upstate New York where the book is set.
(The entire section is 1460 words.)
SOURCE: Bradfield, Scott. “Department Wars.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4921 (25 July 1997): 23.
[In the following review, Bradfield judges Straight Man to be a humorous but flawed novel.]
Hank Devereaux, the protagonist of Richard Russo's funny and clever novel, [Straight Man,] is a professor of creative writing, hiding out in the below-par English Department of West Central Pennsylvania University, and he doesn't think he belongs anywhere better. About to turn fifty, he hasn't written a book in the twenty years since he received tenure, and he has been elected Department Chair solely because he is the sort of “militant procedural incompetent” who doesn't threaten to get anything done. In a department of losers, nobody wants to be left behind by somebody else's accomplishments. And, in an era of increasingly stringent budget cuts, accomplishing nothing is starting to look easier and easier.
Russo's portrait of the Department Wars in today's literary academy is sharp. First, there is the Old Guard, a lot of fifty-something professors who get along by doing as little as possible, and inventing reasons not to talk to one another. Then, there is the thin and stroppy Young Guard, which now consists solely of Campbell Wheemer, a specialist in French feminism, cultural studies, and postmodern American sitcoms, who is so afraid of being deemed “logocentric” that...
(The entire section is 434 words.)
SOURCE: Ingalls, Zoë. “A Novelist Finds Humor in Academic Woes.” Chronicle of Higher Education 43, no. 48 (8 August 1997): B8-B9.
[In the following essay, Ingalls discusses the publication of Straight Man and Russo's use of his own experiences in the academic world as fictional material.]
Richard Russo says his first attempt to write fiction wasn't just unsuccessful, “it was wretched.” You can picture him holding his nose at the other end of the phone. He's in Denver, on the first leg of a three-week, cross-country tour to promote his fourth and latest novel, Straight Man.
“It was not only bad,” he continues. “Almost anybody can write a bad story. But it was bad and pretentious.”
The pretension he attributes to being in the throes of a dissertation in English at the time. Only someone in such a position could write something that “exquisitely, painfully off,” he says. “It exhibits a person without the least skill or imagination, but convinced of his own brilliance.”
Some 20 years later, Dr. Russo, 48, has more than made up for his youthful hubris. His first three novels, Mohawk (1986), The Risk Pool (1988), and Nobody's Fool (1993), were published to favorable reviews, and Nobody's Fool was made into a movie, starring Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy.
(The entire section is 1506 words.)
SOURCE: Curwen, Thomas. “Just Joking.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (21 September 1997): 8.
[In the following review, Curwen praises Straight Man as “a thoroughly irreverent, masterful satire of American life, circa 1997.”]
Just shy of his 50th birthday, William Henry Devereaux Jr., the wise-cracking interim head of the English department at West Central Pennsylvania University, is about to realize that he isn't cut out for academic life. It's only taken 20 years, but what fun would an epiphany like this be if it didn't slam like a ton of bricks through the years he's lost trying to deny it?
It's April, the cruelest month, and this particular week isn't going to get any easier. On the home front, Devereaux's wife is about to head off to Philly to interview for a new job, leaving him with their white German shepherd and a kidney stone that feels like the Rock of Gibraltar. His mother, who lives across town, is about to welcome home his philandering father after a 40-year absence, and his youngest daughter, her husband currently unemployed, is about to cut out on the marriage.
Add to that a colleague who took offense at one of his many indelicate quips and gaffed his nose with the spiral end of a loose-leaf notebook and a university that's trying to cut staff and costs by 20٪ and you have the makings of one beautiful midlife crisis. We all should be so...
(The entire section is 1398 words.)
SOURCE: Lee, Michael. Review of Straight Man, by Richard Russo. National Catholic Reporter 33, no. 41 (26 September 1997): 33.
[In the following review, Lee asserts that Russo joins the ranks of several modern authors who satirize academia—Kingsley Amis, John Barth, and Jane Smiley, among others—with the publication of Straight Man.]
No contemporary institution has felt the bite of novelistic parody and ridicule more keenly and more frequently than has academia. From Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim and John Barth's End of the Road in the 1950s to David Lodge's more recent novels and Jane Smiley's Moo, the academy has been laid bare in the comic mode with far more regularity than the military, the law, science or even Madison Avenue.
While some would suggest that this is because the university has become a parody of itself, the more obvious explanation is that parody is an inside job, and there are more novelists hanging around English departments than in corner offices or emergency rooms—novelists who aren't pleased to see colleagues teaching students to deconstruct the work they spend their lives constructing.
With Straight Man, Richard Russo joins company with Amis, Barth, Lodge and Smiley. Set in the ideologically embattled, budgetarily strained and personality-conflicted English department of West Central Pennsylvania University,...
(The entire section is 1327 words.)
SOURCE: Charles, Ron. “Pillorying Pretentious Professors.” Christian Science Monitor (6 October 1997): 14.
[In the following review, Charles lauds Russo's insight and wit in Straight Man, noting that the novel's satire “never slides into artifice.”]
University life has served as an irresistible subject for some of the funniest satire in modern literature.
After teaching briefly at Sarah Lawrence College, Mary McCarthy set the standard high with The Groves of Academe (1952), her acerbic satire of a liberal college for women. Just two years ago Jane Smiley, who teaches at Iowa State, lambasted a Midwestern university in Moo: A Novel, a bestseller that sprawled across dozens of strange and hilarious characters.
The narrator of the latest addition to this genre, Straight Man by Richard Russo, observes wryly that “virtually everybody in the English department has a half-written novel squirreled away in a desk drawer. Sad little vessels all. Scruffy the Tugboat, lost and scared on the open sea. All elegantly written, all with the same artistic goal—to evidence a superior sensibility.”
Fortunately, Russo's fully written novel is neither sad nor overwrought for he evinces plenty of elegance and flawless timing. He demonstrates that it's possible to laugh at, and with, someone simultaneously.
(The entire section is 711 words.)
SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Love Later On.” New Republic 218, no. 13 (30 March 1998): 26-7.
[In the following excerpt, Kauffmann argues that Twilight is an ineffective attempt to counter youth-driven Hollywood movies, characterizing Robert Benton and Russo's dialogue as “laboriously smart.”]
Twilight (Paramount) is indeed crepuscular. Robert Benton, who directed and cowrote it (with Richard Russo), clearly wanted to strike a blow for his film generation in this era of teenage pleasurings. So he devised a film to star Paul Newman and Gene Hackman and James Garner and (much younger but still not young) Susan Sarandon. In 1977, Benton did The Late Show, with Art Carney as an aging private eye who gets in trouble. This time Newman is the private eye, retired, who gets in trouble.
After a brief prologue in Mexico, the film takes place in Hollywood and environs. The chief setting is the mansion of Hackman, a former movie figure, and his wife, Sarandon, an ex-star. Newman, an old friend, lives over the garage. Asked by Hackman to deliver an envelope to a mysterious woman, Newman steps into a mess, in which he meets two old acquaintances, James Garner, another retired cop, and Stockard Channing, a former lover, still a cop.
The plot winds along, much like watching one of those TV chefs prepare a dish, a touch of this stock ingredient, a dash of...
(The entire section is 425 words.)
SOURCE: Saari, Jon. Review of Straight Man, by Richard Russo. Antioch Review 56, no. 2 (spring 1998): 240.
[In the following review, Saari praises the rich comic narrative of Straight Man.]
The running joke here is that the university is a three-ring circus of clowns and buffoons who provide an unending supply of hilarity. In the hands of Russo's William Henry Devereaux, Jr., or Lucky Hank to friends and enemies alike, the narrator [of Straight Man], life at the backwater West Central Pennsylvania University creates an unnerving anticipation of disaster. In a time of frenzy and wrath, Henry Devereaux, the interim head of the English department, finds attention directed toward him and his supposed hit list, the result of a 20 percent faculty cutback mandated by the campus CEO, Dickie Pope. Devereaux's colleagues are often vociferous in registering their contempt for him, but Devereaux is hardly timid in fending off the slings and arrows directed his way. In fact, he is a familiar type—an intelligent man who can't control his mouth, or as Dickie Pope observes, his goading. What he wants is often elusive even to himself. All hell breaks lose for Devereaux when he dons funny glasses and fake nose to announce on the local news show that he plans to kill a duck (actually goose) a day until he gets his departmental budget. Obviously a ruse on Devereaux's part, this is an effective device to...
(The entire section is 319 words.)
SOURCE: Simon, John. “Benton in Clover, Coens in Bilge.” National Review 50, no. 6 (6 April 1998): 58-9.
[In the following review, Simon compliments Twilight as a “rare crime story that makes sense.”]
Some years ago Robert Benton, Richard Russo, and Paul Newman came up with a winner, Nobody's Fool, and here they are with another one, Twilight, directed by Benton, co-written by him and Russo, and again starring Newman. This time, though, it's a very different story, about rich, amoral people in Los Angeles, part detective thriller, part romantic triangle (sort of), part chronicle of complicated friendships and betrayals, a way-we-live-now morality tale.
Adroitly mixed, these elements coexist remarkably. At the center is Harry Ross (Newman), once a cop, then a private eye, who manages to track down, in the film's prologue, the runaway daughter of wealthy Jack and Catherine Ames (Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon). The underage girl, Mel (Reese Witherspoon), is living it up in Puerto Vallarta with a boyfriend, Jeff (Liev Schreiber), until Harry comes to fetch her home. Jeff tries to stop him, there's a fracas, and Mel picks up a gun dropped by Harry and shoots him in the leg.
A couple of years later, Harry has given up detective work and is living with the Ameses as a handyman, apparently doing nothing much besides playing cards with Jack and...
(The entire section is 818 words.)
SOURCE: Jacobs, Rita D. Review of Straight Man, by Richard Russo. World Literature Today 72, no. 4 (autumn 1998): 832-33.
[In the following review, Jacobs commends the “complex” and “witty” protagonist of Straight Man.]
There is no denying the voyeuristic allure of a novel set in your own backyard, or in one that very much resembles it, and peopled by your neighbors. This is certainly part of the charm of Straight Man. It is a novel of academe, and better yet, the central character is an English professor surrounded by the wondrous diversity of beleaguered souls who have also chosen that profession. But Richard Russo's work is more than merely “an academic novel,” meaning it is not limited by a fusty formula. Neither is it a genre novel which focuses on an exploration of undergraduate peccadilloes, a kind of borderline bordello novel. Rather, Russo's fourth novel (after Mohawk, The Risk Pool, and Nobody's Fool) is a complex, witty, and moving portrait of a very intelligent, middle-aged man trapped in a variety of ways.
William Henry “Hank” Devereaux Jr., the son of an eminent English professor and critic, wrote a well-received novel, Off the Road, early in his career, but he has produced nothing since. He is currently the chair of the English Department at West Central Pennsylvania University, an institution of which few of its...
(The entire section is 590 words.)
SOURCE: Charles, Ron. “Grease Spots on the American Dream.” Christian Science Monitor (10 May 2001): 18-19.
[In the following review, Charles lauds the literary accomplishment of Empire Falls, arguing that the “history of American literature may show that Richard Russo wrote the last great novel of the 20th century.”]
The history of American literature may show that Richard Russo wrote the last great novel of the 20th century. His newly released Empire Falls holds the fading culture of small-town life in a light that's both illuminating and searing. It captures the interplay of past and present, comedy and tragedy, nation and individual in the tradition of America's greatest books.
The mills that caused Empire Falls, Maine, to mushroom during the last half of the 19th century have long since closed in this carefully drawn novel. But the Whiting family still owns the industrial husks, the river frontage, most of the town's buildings, and the tired souls of its inhabitants.
One of those cowed citizens is Miles Roby, whose reflexive patience frustrates even the friends and relatives who adore him. Twenty years ago, against his dying mother's wishes, he dropped out of college to care for her and manage the Empire Grill. Like everything else, it's owned by the Whiting matriarch, but Miles clings to a vague promise that he'll inherit the dilapidated...
(The entire section is 820 words.)
SOURCE: Cryer, Dan. “Through the Mill.” Washington Post Book World 31, no. 21 (27 May-2 June 2001): 7.
[In the following review, Cryer notes Russo's skillful characterization of Miles Roby and his small-town community in Empire Falls.]
Stay with Miles Roby long enough and you can't miss the integrity, reliability, kindness and thoughtfulness that make him such a decent human being. In the short run, though, these qualities are likely to be obscured by truckloads of inertia, risk-aversion and general bloodlessness. Most folks in little Empire Falls in central Maine admire Roby, who runs the local diner, but they sense that some vital spark is missing in him. Despite 20 years of marriage, his wife, Janine, is so put off by her husband's malaise that she's left him for a sexy, muscled, fitness-club entrepreneur.
Like his hometown, the protagonist of Richard Russo's latest novel, Empire Falls, seems battered and gun-shy, maybe even doomed for the scrap heap. Empire Falls—a generation ago the thriving base of a timber and textile company—is now blemished by abandoned factories and boarded-up stores. Once-mighty Whiting Enterprises has been reduced to an elderly widowed termagant, Mrs. Whiting, with a grown daughter, Cindy, warehoused in a distant mental hospital. The townspeople, deprived of good jobs, bereft of hope, make do on bitterness and regret.
(The entire section is 848 words.)
SOURCE: Marcus, James. Review of Empire Falls, by Richard Russo. Atlantic Monthly 287, no. 6 (June 2001): 104.
[In the following review, Marcus praises Empire Falls as Russo's “most ambitious work to date,” but notes that the novel feels overlong.]
Richard Russo first made his reputation with a series of blue-collar novels that suggested a more antic and expansive Raymond Carver. But by the time he published Straight Man, in 1997, Russo was clearly interested in breaking new ground, and that foray into academic farce showed off his comic timing and sneaky construction to superb effect. Now comes Empire Falls, the author's most ambitious work to date. The title refers to a down-at-heel town in contemporary Maine whose pulp mills and shirt factory have long since fallen silent, leaving the population to eke out a living along the economic margins—in bars, doughnut shops, greasy spoons. Russo attends to both the mighty (the plutocratic Whiting clan) and the meek (everybody else). Yet the focus of this post-industrial panorama is Miles Roby, the manager of the Empire Grill, who seems to preside serenely over the collapse of his personal and professional lives. His wife has left him for the local fitness-club mogul, and his restaurant, leased unto eternity from the rapacious Francine Whiting, is on its last legs. Miles, however, is a pathologically nice guy. And Russo gets...
(The entire section is 334 words.)
SOURCE: Max, D. T. “Expecting Failure, Finding Faith.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (10 June 2001): 17.
[In the following review of Empire Falls, Max commends the novel for its appealing style and humor but faults the work for its heavy-handed symbolism.]
Richard Russo has focused on fading Middle American towns in several of his earlier books. By now he knows his stuff. His new novel introduces the reader to the town of Empire Falls, Maine. It's been a mill town without a purpose ever since its main industry closed some 20 years ago. Its residents, still stunned, drift. “People rarely knew what they wanted,” the local bartender notes. “Despite their certainty that they did know, she'd never seen much compelling evidence. …”
Hope springs eternal though. The sight of a limousine with Massachusetts plates sets the townspeople to gossiping. In such diminished circumstances, their sins, like their virtues, are modest. Max Roby, a wily seventy-something retired house painter, convinces a senile priest to steal an offering box so they can spend a winter drinking in Key West. His son Miles works hard, managing a grill whose popularity comes from the fact that the Rexall drugstore next door has been knocked down, allowing a view of the closed mill. In Empire Falls, this is what passes for good luck.
The Roby family is at the center of Empire Falls....
(The entire section is 1071 words.)
SOURCE: Prager, Michael. “Run-of-the-Mill? Not Empire Falls.” Boston Globe (27 June 2001): D13.
[In the following review, Prager offers a positive assessment of Empire Falls, lauding Russo's “entirely natural portrayal of small-town life.”]
In the Empire Falls of Richard Russo's clever and knowing fifth novel, [Empire Falls,] the empire has all but fallen. Led by the mighty Whitings, its textile mills had powered the fictitious central Maine town for generations, but now only tatters remain.
The most visible remnants are the two old factories that stand hard by the Knox River, but there are plenty of others, including the clan's flinty, calculating matriarch, and memories woven deeply into the fabric of the community.
This is no more so than for Miles Roby, the town's moral center and the reader's rooting interest. Not only does he share the common history, but also there are mysterious ties between his family and the Whitings. When the mills closed, Miles's mother went to work for Mrs. Whiting, but even more binds them together.
Miles is cynical, but sweet and fairly virtuous. He gives of himself to the church, is a devoted dad, and believes that his just rewards will come if he can only be patient.
It's that sort of attitude that explains why he's still in town at all. It had been his mother's most...
(The entire section is 823 words.)
SOURCE: McCleese, Don. Review of Empire Falls, by Richard Russo. Book (July 2001): 63.
[In the following review, McCleese compliments Russo's balancing of comedic and tragic elements in Empire Falls.]
Writer Tom Wolfe once charged that “the American novel is dying, not of obsolescence, but of anorexia.” The remedy? “Novelists with the energy and the verve to approach America in the way her moviemakers do,” with “huge appetites and mighty, unslaked thirsts.” For a feast of social realism, the hungry reader might turn to Richard Russo's latest work, a multigenerational epic of rich detail, memorable character and indelible plot. This is the sort of big-theme novel that complainers maintain no one is writing any more, an ambitious throwback to an era when novelists more often looked outward than inward for inspirational nourishment.
In Empire Falls, which is set in a Maine town teetering toward oblivion, Russo introduces a cross section of society's also-rans; trapped between a past of minimal opportunity and a future unimaginable as anything better, characters settle for diminished returns on the dreams of their parents. The lay of this fictional land will be familiar to admirers of Russo's previous books about the blue-collar Northeast, including his 1986 debut, Mohawk, and its 1988 sequel, The Risk Pool, as well as 1993's Nobody's Fool and...
(The entire section is 870 words.)
SOURCE: Broun, Bill. “Down Home Folk.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5127 (6 July 2001): 22.
[In the following review of Empire Falls, Broun approves of Russo's ambitious scope but finds the narrative to be overly nostalgic and bland.]
Empire Falls, the latest novel from Richard Russo, is a paean to and satire on small-town America. It works smoothly in the limited terms it sets for itself, offering the guilty pleasure of nostalgia and a cagey stereotyping that refuses to declare itself. The prose is utilitarian, the characters stock, and the ethos inoffensive. None the less, the almost angrily righteous praise the novel is receiving in America right now—most vociferously from newspaper staffers—makes it hard to ignore.
The title refers to the imaginary burg in Maine, where Russo stages his provincial epic, and it is an epically bland place: the poisonous, vibrant heyday of the old economy, rooted in the logging, textile and paper industries and riddled with the anguish of immigrant workers, has long since faded. The nineteenth-century mill buildings standing at the end of the main avenue, deserted and monumental, remain “the undeniable physical embodiment of the town's past”, constantly drawing the gaze and belittling the self. Of course, this is no place for architectural reverie; the new service economy of the Clinton boom years, with its multinational...
(The entire section is 741 words.)
SOURCE: Allen, Bruce. “Love, Loss, and Small-Town Economics.” Boston Globe (5 August 2001): D5.
[In the following review, Allen praises Russo's complex characterizations and effective interweaving of multiple plot threads in Empire Falls.]
If you're seeking the perfect summertime read—a roomy, absorbing book in which to wander around and lose yourself for several relaxing days—you probably can't do better than Richard Russo's immensely satisfying fifth novel, Empire Falls.
Russo's credentials as a serious writer who never fails to entertain were firmly established by his bighearted early novels Mohawk (1986) and The Risk Pool (1988), bittersweet comic chronicles of economic decline and moral growth set in the small towns of their author's native upstate New York. Russo achieved an even greater popularity with Nobody's Fool (1993), a dead-on portrayal of a charismatic 60-something wastrel that inspired a deservedly acclaimed Paul Newman film. Its successor, Straight Man (1997), is, if possible, an even funnier delineation of an embattled Everyman: Pennsylvania college professor Hank Devereaux, a likably rumpled mediocrity whose essential sanity and goodness stand him in excellent stead against the rising tide of crises created by brain-dead students, agenda-burdened colleagues, and his importunate extended family.
(The entire section is 961 words.)
SOURCE: Hower, Edward. “Small-Town Dreams: Disappointment Haunts the Characters in Richard Russo's Depiction of Life in a Hapless Maine Backwater Town.” World and I 16, no. 10 (October 2001): 243.
[In the following review, Hower notes that Russo strikes a good balance between reality and morality in Empire Falls, arguing that the novel's “main strength is its skillfully developed characters”]
In art museums, people crowd around pictures of demons, like the ones in Hieronymus Bosch's grotesque landscapes, yet walk right by visions of radiant angels, hardly pausing to yawn. Evil is often a lot more interesting than virtue—in literature as well as art. It's not easy for writers to make their good characters as compelling as their villains, but Richard Russo manages this skillfully in his new novel, Empire Falls. His good-hearted everyman hero, Miles, runs the diner in a small, decaying Maine town and is just as enjoyable to read about as the bad guys (and women) who test his integrity.
American writers—from Mark Twain to Sherwood Anderson to Garrison Keillor—have always made small towns dramatic settings for conflicts between corruption and decency, probably because people live more public lives in small settings. In the old mill town of Empire Falls, people have known each other's families for generations, and a talented writer like Russo can make us believe...
(The entire section is 2280 words.)
SOURCE: Epstein, Joseph. “Surfing the Novel.” Commentary 113, no. 1 (January 2002): 32-7.
[In the following excerpt, Epstein laments the difficulty of identifying new literary talent and, singling out Jonathan Franzen and Russo as notable exceptions, provides a favorable review of Empire Falls.]
Reading novels has so long been a habit of mine that by now it qualifies as a full-blown addiction. My modus operandi is to alternate between the new and the old; frequently I have bookmarks in both simultaneously, hoping to keep up with the latest offerings while attempting to fill in some of the many gaps in my reading before I depart the planet. To this day, I feel a tug of guilt over never having read Arnold Bennett's The Old Wives' Tale (1908), though I hope to get around to it presently. Onward and outward.
When it comes to older novels, my principle of selection has been set by the test of time, that soundest of all critics. A much trickier matter is to decide which contemporary fiction merits attention. One can go by the reviews; or by having seen a novelist's work in a magazine one trusts; or by the general buzz in the weekly supplements or the intellectual journals; or by whim and fancy. But the supply itself seems endless.
As a reader, I am in the position of a man on his couch, remote control in hand, contemplating the hundreds of channels available for...
(The entire section is 2365 words.)
SOURCE: Jacobs, Rita D. Review of Empire Falls, by Richard Russo. World Literature Today 76, no. 2 (spring 2002): 153.
[In the following review of Empire Falls, Jacobs praises Russo's characterizations and prose but faults the novel for excessive length and abrupt resolution.]
First, I have to admit I am an unabashed Richard Russo fan. Especially in The Risk Pool and Straight Man, Russo has written quintessential novels about somewhat miniaturized subjects—growing up in a small, undistinguished town with a ne'er-do-well father, suffering through the petty squabbles of an English Department—and has done it with grace, humor, and a good deal of literary skill. A distinctly twentieth-century local colorist, Russo uses rich detail and irony to craft terrifically satisfying novels. This is not to demean the importance of his comments on society and its ills or on the human condition; it's just that he situates his trenchant comments in small domains.
That brings us to Empire Falls, the novel and the name of the small town in Maine where Russo's newest hero, Miles Roby, lives with his fractured family and his ghosts. Divorced, but not because he desired the break, he is left with the Empire Grill, which he runs but doesn't own, and a longing to see his daughter Christina, known as Tick, grow up with the drive and ability to escape the town. His father,...
(The entire section is 621 words.)
SOURCE: Case, Kristen. “Pulsating with Real Life.” New Leader 85, no. 4 (July-August 2002): 30-1.
[In the following review, Case praises the life and vitality of the stories in The Whore's Child and Other Stories.]
The short story's rise to prominence in American letters must be at least partly a consequence of its usefulness to English teachers. Not only is it easier than the novel to “workshop” (to use a questionable term in its most dubious form), it is easier to teach. I remember peering over my freshman English professor's shoulder at the contents page of his copy of the anthology we were using and seeing his handwritten notes alongside each title. “Voice” was scrawled next to Raymond Carver's “Where I'm Calling From,” “Irony” next to Albert Camus' “The Guest.”
The pieces in Richard Russo's first short fiction collection [The Whore's Child and Other Stories] also illustrate the point. One can imagine a great, meaty seminar discussion about that venerable duo Art and Life arising from the title story, in which an elderly nun in a fiction class submits a harrowing and decidedly unfashionable memoir. An ace paper could be written on the many varieties of real and metaphorical contamination in “Poison,” the tale of two authors born in the shadow of the same toxin-spewing mill.
Russo packs a great deal into his stories, and clearly...
(The entire section is 1222 words.)
SOURCE: Heinegg, Peter. “You Still Can't Get There from Here.” America 187, no. 12 (21 October 2002): 26.
[In the following review, Heinegg compliments Russo's deadpan comedic timing in The Whore's Child and Other Stories.]
Right beneath the title, the jacket of The Whore's Child displays a bare black cross; and we soon discover why. The subject of the title story is, of all things, an aging nun whose beloved absent father turns out to have been her (hated) mother's pimp. What the embittered Sister Veronique has in common with most of the cast in the remaining six tales (or novellas) in this collection is her more or less permanent, but wholly un-redemptive pain. Not for nothing was this homely, engaging novelist raised a Catholic in Johnstown, N.Y. Richard Russo's heroes tend to be bewildered boys whose parents' failed marriages get even more dismal when, faute de mieux, they reconcile (“Joy Ride,” “The Mysteries of Linwood Hart”), or husbands who are either divorced (“Poison”), unfaithful (“Buoyancy” and “The Farther You Go”) or cuckolded (“Monhegan Light”).
Like Russo himself, some of his newest male characters may have escaped their bleak hometowns in the Rust Belt (he lives in Maine, and they're New Englanders), but not their bleak, unpicturesque destiny. “Man hands on misery to man,” as Philip Larkin said; and so in “The Farther You...
(The entire section is 826 words.)
SOURCE: Deignan, Tom. “Good Liars.” World and I 17, no. 11 (November 2002): 229.
[In the following review, Deignan presents a critical reading of the stories in The Whore's Child and Other Stories, commending Russo's emphasis on examining the “act of storytelling.”]
Literary whippersnappers such as David Foster Wallace and Rick Moody spent the 1990s tinkering with the literary form to great acclaim. It seemed that when you opened any hip collection of stories, or the latest, greatest postmodern novel, you were as likely to see footnotes or characters who shared the author's name as you were to see dialogue and plot twists. Whether or not these formal developments were a passing fad remains to be seen. But what can be said is that, lately, more established mainstream writers have picked up the postmodern scent in the literary air.
Mind you, writers such as Ian McEwan in his acclaimed novel Atonement or Richard Russo in The Whore's Child, his new collection of short stories, are not interested in the kind of wink-wink formal play one gets from younger literary pranksters. Instead, Russo, McEwan, and others have examined the very process and act of storytelling itself. This may sound like a different page in the same deconstructionist book, but it's not.
In part, Foster Wallace and the others have been peeling back the curtain of authorship...
(The entire section is 2496 words.)
Cooper, Rand Richards. “Bitter Harvests.” New York Times Book Review (14 July 2002): 10.
Cooper notes the significantly darker tone of Russo's short stories in The Whore's Child and Other Stories.
Gussow, Mel. “Writing a Novel in the Deli, Making Revisions in the Bar.” New York Times (29 August 2001): E1.
Gussow provides an overview of Russo's life and career upon the publication of Empire Falls.
Hemley, Robin. “The Howls of Ivy: Richard Russo's Funny but Sad Tale of a Professor with a Pack of Problems.” Chicago Tribune Books (3 August 1997): 3.
Hemley lauds Russo's “rollicking” satire of academia in Straight Man.
Kakutani, Michiko. “Books of the Times.” New York Times (15 October 1986): C24.
Kakutani praises Russo's overall accomplishment with Mohawk, but criticizes the novel for components of melodrama and caricature.
Maslin, Janet. “A Sly Grace for Harrowing Situations.” New York Times (8 July 2002): E8.
Maslin evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of The Whore's Child and Other Stories.
Prose, Francine. “Small-Town Smart-Alecks.” New York Times Book Review (20 June 1993): 13.
Prose offers a generally...
(The entire section is 323 words.)