Francesca Woodbridge's seemingly normal life as wife and mother in a Midwestern town belies a fierce and consuming "desire for desire." Though the narrator of My Russian has suppressed her true nature for many years, when her lawyer-husband, Ren, is shot by a mysterious intruder, she realizes she cannot, like other people, handle her "roiling dreams, morning sweats ... like pets that can be sent back to obedience school." But this is just the latest in a long string of events that have poisoned her domestic life. Years before, Ren abandoned his ideals and took a job with a white-shoe firm, and Francesca is eternally angry at him for it. She begins to transgress--a liaison with a young man, then an affair with her Russian gardener. But it is when she takes a break from tending Ren after the shooting and goes to Greece (only to sneak home and live in disguise at a motel for a week) that her life is altered irrevocably.
Deirdre McNamer's third novel is infused with a deep melancholy rooted in her character's awareness of life's fragility. It is precisely this awareness that forces Francesca to be true to her desire for desire, no matter the outcome. "I'm hoping to channel it into something constructive," she says, "but it's possible that that won't happen. It may be my religion, my way of insisting on the existence of some unseeable truth. It may also be a way of going blind. Of missing what's best when it's right before your eyes." A scary religion, that, but as My Russian makes clear, it's one that Francesca, like the truly faithful, cannot help but obey. --Katherine Anderson
From Publishers Weekly
A woman who impulsively decides to change her life is the protagonist of McNamer's piercingly intuitive third novel. With the clarity and accuracy of a jeweler's loop, McNamer (Rima in the Weeds; One Sweet Quarrel) masterfully dissects the oppressive torpor of life in an anonymous Pacific Northwest town, where everyone seems content, and "rhetorical politenesses are not yet considered lethally inefficient, or even insincere." Weary of her circumscribed existence as a middle-aged, ordinary housewife, and suffering from the loss of her lover, Yuri, a Russian gardener, Francesca Woodbridge sits alone in a hotel room a few blocks from her home. Her stuffy attorney husband, Ren, still recovering from a mysterious attack from a masked intruder, and her teenage son, have no idea that she has flown back from her vacation in Greece. "I am here," she says, "to assess the situation... to spy on my waiting life." As her new self, Francesca feels "suspended in a nameless new lightness" and newly capable of introspection. "One morning... I realized that my interior self, the self I did not present to the world or even those closest to me, seemed to have burned out. It was gray sticks and ashes." This is a woman as haunted by should-have-dones and might-have-beens as Clarissa Dalloway, and who similarly laments the loss of a lover. Though McNamer universalizes her heroine's emotional limbo, suggesting that we are all one step from overhauling our lives (a step we never actually take), her queryAwhat if we did?Amakes for a provocative, compelling story. As Francesca abandons her stalled life for an "accelerating" one, an intricate mystery unravels as well. The puzzle of who shot Ren Woodbridge seems to be obvious at least three times during the course of the story, but McNamer manages to sustain the suspense until nearly the final page. Other than a few moments of stilted dialogue, the narrative pulses and flows like good poetryAand its searing portrait of the consequences of choosing comfort over desire is memorable.
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