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Elsewhere: A memoir Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 30, 2012
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Pulitzer Prize–winning author Russo brings the same clear-eyed humanism that marks his fiction to this by turns funny and moving portrait of his high-strung mother and her never-ending quest to escape the provincial confines of their hometown of Gloversville, New York. All of her life, she clung to the notion that she was an independent woman, despite the fact that she couldn’t drive, lived upstairs from her parents, and readily accepted their money to keep her household afloat. She finally escaped her deteriorating hometown, which went bust when the local tannery shut down, by moving to Arizona with her 18-year-old son when he left for college and following him across the country right up until her death. His comical litany of her long list of anxieties, from the smell of cooking oil to her fruitless quest for the perfect apartment, is a testament to his forbearance but also to his ability to make her such a vivid presence in these pages. Part of what makes this such a profound tribute to her is precisely because he sees her so clearly, flaws and all. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Prizewinning author Richard Russo’s many fans will be lining up for his first nonfiction work, which has generated considerable prepublication buzz. --Joanne Wilkinson
“It’s rare for a novelist to write candidly about the real behind the imagined. About a lifetime of work and the very person who inspired it. Yet that is precisely what Richard Russo has done in his memoir.... Redemption is always the prize in a Russo story. Nowhere do we see that more clearly than in Elsewhere, a brave little book in which a writer spins deprivation into advantage, suffering into wisdom, and a broken mother into a muse. Wanting him to be anywhere but Gloversville, Jean Russo did everything she could to make her son leave. And then, unable to feel whole anywhere outside it, she eventually brought him home.” —Marie Arana, The Washington Post
“Intimate and powerful...an impeccably told tale.” —Julia M. Klein, Chicago Tribune
“A gorgeously nuanced memoir about Russo’s mother and his own lifelong tour of duty spent—lovingly and exhaustedly—looking out for her. . . . Russo is the Bruce Springsteen of novelists . . . in a paragraph or even a phrase, he can summon up a whole world, and the world he writes most poignantly about is that of the industrial white working class.” —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“Filled with insights, by turn tender and tough, about human fidelity, frailty, forbearance, and fortitude.” —Glenn C. Altschuler, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Moving and darkly funny. . . Russo mines grace from his gritty hometown [and] the greatest charm of this memoir lies in the absences of self-pity and pretension in his take on his own history.” —Amy Finnerty, The Wall Street Journal
“Heartfelt and generous.” —Tricia Springstubb, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“One of the most honest, moving American memoirs in years... Russo's straightforward writing style is even more effective in Elsewhere [and his] intellectual and emotional honesty are remarkable.” —Michael Schaub, NPR.org
“Rich and layered... an honest book about a universal subject: those familial bonds that only get trickier with time.” —Kevin Canfield, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Russo conjures the incredible bond between single mother and only child in a way that makes his story particularly powerful.” —Nicholas Mancusi, The Daily Beast
“Russo brings the same clear-eyed humanism that marks his fiction to this by turns funny and moving portrait of his mother and her never-ending quest to escape the provincial confines of their hometown.” —Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist
“An affecting yet never saccharine glimpse of the relationship among place, family and fiction.” —Kirkus
Top customer reviews
The "star" of this book is Jean, Richard's mother. While the reader gets a fairly good idea how Richard's life developed, nothing happens to him without the major involvement of his mother. Was it a toxic mother/son relationship? Hard to say. If most people experienced what Richard did, I think they would have a strong resentment about their mother's actions, demands, and weaknesses. But Richard doesn't seem to feel that way. While he describes the difficulties his mother causes, he doesn't seem bitter or even flummoxed by them. At least in what he says, he seems a remarkably laid, back, even positive, son.
I'm a great fan of Russo's books, and reading this "memoir," or whatever it is, gives me more insight into the man. I should probably read more memoirs, as I tend to develop a (skewed?) picture of a good author simply by reading her/his books. In Russo's case, I had the image of him living in a small upstate New York town, where the people more or less bumbled along, but ended up having a fairly adequate and fulfilling life (with some exceptions, of course). But Gloversville, the real New York town in Russo's and Jean's experience, seems like a backwater - a boring, toxic place. So maybe Russo's books see small-town New York through rose-colored glasses, or maybe both images are part of a more complex picture. In any case, people are never exactly the way we think they are - whether fictional or real.
Is Jean "crazy"? That word is actually used in the text, spoken initially by a bystander. It develops that she does have mental problems, but nevertheless, she seems to get her way, and to be a remarkable survivor of the tribulations life tosses her way. Wherever she is, "Elsewhere" would be better.
Lucy Lynch’s childhood home actually sits caddy-corner with Ikey Lubin’s (Bridge of Sighs) at the intersection of Fifth and Helwig. The earlier Berman Court address would be somewhere on or near West Fulton Street. The downtown and “Gut” locations are clearer and less disguised. Even more interesting are the true identities of the characters. Ned Hall (Risk Pool) and Robert Noonan (Bridge of Sighs) are Russo himself as a youngster and grown man. Lucy Lynch (Bridge of Sighs) seems to be Cousin Greg, and Mather Grouse (Mohawk) would be Russo’s maternal grandfather. Dimensions of Russo’s mother appear as multiple characters: Mrs. Grouse (Mohawk), Vera (Nobody’s Fool), and Grace Roby (Empire Falls). The father is both Sam Hall (Risk Pool) and Sully (Nobody’s Fool, Everybody’s Fool). The National Enquirer question would be who was Tria Ward (Risk Pool) in real life? Will Russo take the answer to this to the grave?
The memoir is intriguing and reads well. Some digressions seem oddly out of place, such as the DeSantis ‘book review’ stashed into Elsewhere’s final chapter. Russo reconciles this digression better here than in the High and Dry piece from the Interventions set, but its reconciliation still seems a bit of a stretch for the focus of the book–better to have been a separate book review. More welcome would be more context for the topic of diagnosed mental illnesses, more common than not among artists and writers. Regardless of these fussy issues, Elsewhere is certainly worth a careful read.
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