1. Welcome to SportsJournalists.com, a friendly forum for discussing all things sports and journalism.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register for a free account to get access to the following site features:
    • Reply to discussions and create your own threads.
    • Access to private conversations with other members.
    • Fewer ads.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon!

The return of Richard Russo

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by TheSportsPredictor, Sep 25, 2007.

  1. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member


    There's perfect weather here, a porch outside my front door, and a book in my hand that I've been waiting on for six years.

    I first encountered Richard Russo in college when his novel The Risk Pool was on the reading list for one of my English classes. Didn't really get into it then, but later that semester our professor brought Russo in to talk to the class. The next summer I read Mohawk (his first novel) and then dove into Risk Pool and loved both. The Risk Pool is just beautiful and really taught me a lot about writing, which was intention of my professor. I'll never forget how perfectly the ending tied in with the beginning; it created a perfect circle. Like a wonderful girlfriend who you can't hold onto, the book practically ruined me for other novels.

    Always on the lookout for Russo novels since, I eventually reread Mohawk because I had to wait five years between The Risk Pool and Nobody's Fool. That's the book that put Russo on the map; eventually it became a pretty darn good movie, featuring Paul Newman as the main character. The movie served as a bit of rebirth for Newman, as he had just done the Hudsucker Proxy, his first movie in four years.

    Mohawk, The Risk Pool, and Nobody's Fool all played on the same theme -- small, vanishing towns in upstate New York and the small, vanishing relationships most families endured in these settings, most notably between semi-estranged father and child with divorced wife still floating around. And though the books share these themes, they are totally unique stories.

    Straight Man came along in 1997 and strayed from Russo's usual theme into the absurdity of liberal arts college professors. I just didn't enjoy it as much and was disappointed. It's a fine book, I just didn't get into it. I shrugged it off like a bad year for your favorite team and couldn't wait to give Russo another chance.

    Then came the grand slam, the undefeated season, the Olympic gold medal all wrapped in one. Empire Falls hit six years ago, in the middle of summer, 2001. Like my first set of boobs, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it, and couldn't take them off once I got ahold of it. I remember plopping down on my couch, opening that book, and practically not getting up until I finished. In less than three days I read all 500 pages. It was the greatest reading experience of my life, enhanced by having read all Russo's other novels. I already believed they were brilliant, but this novel, Empire Falls, made them look like practice. They were minor league compared to Empire Falls. Every single word mattered in this book, every single word was a perfect pitch. Everything that Russo had written up before Empire Falls simply led into Empire Falls. It's the same theme -- a dying small town (this time in Maine), fractured families, strained father/child relationship -- yet this was the book Richard Russo had been aiming for. He had written it three times before, and brilliantly, yet this time he reached the stratosphere. It was like watching and appreciating Peyton Manning for years, then watching him do everything right and finally winning the Super Bowl.

    And Russo did win his award when Empire Falls won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2002. Empire Falls was also named as Time Magazine's Novel of the Year. It was not only a critical success; it stayed on the bestseller lists for months. It of course was adapted into an HBO miniseries, once again featuring Paul Newman, in what he said would be his last role, because he would work for no one other than Richard Russo.

    Russo had made it to the top.

    Things have been quiet for him since. I've kept my eyes out for new things (as I do for Wally Lamb, whose amazing She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True are as strong a 1-2 punch as Ruth and Gehrig in the middle of the Yankees lineup 80 years ago). Russo put out a book of short stories, The Whore's Child, in 2003 that barely served as a midday snack.

    But now he's back. Today is the official realease of Bridge of Sighs, his first novel in six years. It's hefty, weighing in at 528 pages, but feels perfect in my hands. I am already wishing it were longer. Somebody somewhere must have declared that tonight be the perfect fall night in Cleveland as it's a breezy 80 degrees and clear outside. My porch and a couple hundred pages await.
  2. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Mister Predictor,

    I'll admit it ... I didn't get through Mohawk. But Empire Falls was an amazing work. I guess it wasn't the Pulitzer favorite but a desrving winner, certainly belongs when compared to other recent winners. Another book about the same time with somewhat the same setting and a similar title, Preston Falls (by, I'm trying to remember, David Gates, Newsweek lit editor). Empire Falls has a sad, kicked-in feeling; Preston Falls a little more a disillusioned, self-destructive jag.

    YHS, etc
  3. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member


    Glad you posted this. Russo has always been one of my favorite authors. There are so many good books out this fall by writers I adore (Denis Johnson, Junot Diaz, Tom Perotta, Michael Chabon) my head is spinning.

    I have to say, however, that I completely disagree with your lackluster review of Straight Man. That may have something to do with the fact that I grew up in academia, but I still think it's the funniest book I've ever read. It nails college professors in a way that is absolutely perfect. I laughed out loud so many times, I lost count.

    I still think Nobody's Fool is his best work, not Empire Falls, but I was pleased with Empire and glad that it won the big prize. Russo is a fabulous man of letters, and I will be picking up his latest immediately.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page