Finished this book over the weekend, and I caught myself smiling about a quirky funny moment while out walking last night. If you aren't familiar with this writer, Richard Russo, you should check out at least Nobody's Fool. He won the Pulitzer for the novel Empire Falls, but for my money NF has richer humor and human drama.
I am an opinionated snippetybitchet, am I not?
I'm not sure what I think yet about this book. Russo's prose and style is an almost-perfect counterpoint to Cormac McCarthy. Russo writes about minutiae of our modern lives with the sort of detail and focus that we grant it - and thus draws attention to how silly are the ways that we spend our days. While McCarthy goes straight at the big questions, such as the nature of evil or the source of joy in a life, Russo tends more toward the sidelong glance. He writes small towns with small dramas writ large, and dissatisfied middle-aged men looking for their true selves, often in bars or diners with other men who are older or younger versions of themselves. Yet from the small dramas Russo pulls large truths.
One of this book's truths is about fathers. Much of the drama centers around William Henry Devereaux, Jr's (call him Hank) discomfort with being abandoned by William Henry Devereaux, Sr - 40 years earlier. The father is coming to live in the small town that Jr. calls home, and they are both academics, both English professors. But much of the wisdom comes from Hank's insight into how his wife feels about her father. I was laughing about a paragraph in the book where Hank says "every time she spends time with her father, my own stock rises. I hate to think of him staying with us for an entire summer, but by the time he leaves, I'm going to look pretty good to Lily."
But now, writing this, I'm more interested in this idea of the sidelong glance. Maybe that's why I like Russo (not everyone does, and especially not every writer does). His characters, who sneak up on the things that scare them, who look and then look away - they feel true to me. It is a strategy that is very helpful when the thing we need to face is truly frightening, worthy of a respectful, slow, careful approach. But it can quickly become a habit.
I'm off to write some fiction. Happy Thursday!