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My Russian Hardcover – June 4, 1999

3.8 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 278 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; First Edition edition (June 4, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395956374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395956373
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,133,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
``My Russian'' is a delight. By turns hilarious and distursbing,her characters are fiesty and alive, her prose is graceful andmercurial. But mostly, McNamer writes with a profoundly realizedsense of place. The best book I've read since ``Charming Billy''.Where has McNamer been hiding all this time?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This novel is so well structured, so well thought-through and so well written! Mostly, though, it's just a really engrossing read. McNamer has such gorgeous prose and characters that stay with you long after you've closed the book.
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By A Customer on December 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
The writing stype is truly fine, and the book could have been better with an entirely different story. This story line, if we can use the term here, lacked credibility, meandered, and finally, focused altogether too much on the narrator's selfhood. With no thought of the possible and myriad consequences of her actions on other people, she goes forward with "creating" a really implausable life for herself. I never thought I'd ever say it, but "Puh-leez"!
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Format: Hardcover
I liked both the Seattle and Missoula locales since I'm familar with both cities but the real story in My Russian is a woman trying to find out her future by talking about the past. There is much violence and death in the past and it continues in the present. Life does go on and intrigue doesn't work for Francesa. I suspected the person who shot Ren long before it was revealed--but was it revealed? I enjoyed reading Rima in the Weeds and this novel is another interesting one.
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By MW on October 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book thrilled me: an engrossing plot and sumptuous writing. The plot, wherein a woman disappears from her smothered life and returns to examine it in secret, is compelling enough, but what gives this novel real heft is the author's startling insights about marriage, loyalty, and friendship. Her writing vibrates with beauty and intelligence. Even the most minor characters - especially the hapless motel clerk - shimmer. This gal's the real deal. Highly recommended!
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Format: Hardcover
This book struck me as a real, true book... not in that it happened, but in that the narrator lived this adventure. It has been called a "Literary Thriller" (readers try to discover who shot the narrator's husband), but I found it more a novel of self-discovery and insight. The writing was excellent--evocative, poetic, and, in many turns of phrases, unusual, invigorating, and surprising. I'd recommend it to all of my friends.
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Format: Hardcover
With her third novel, Deirdre McNamer has written a story that earns her a place among America's best current authors. The voice of Francesca Woodbridge is unique, strong and ultimately true, whether or not you agree with her point of view. Her story is one that touches all of us. Returning from Greece without telling her family, she observes their lives, and her own, with a perspective that gives her new insight. She is able to ultimately make choices that allow her to be congruent and fully present in her own life. Set in her home town of Missoula, Montana, the book is oddly indifferent to place, focusing more on relationships and interior landscapes. As a Montanan I missed the strong sense of landscape that was present in her earlier novels. The title only makes sense in the end when all of the pieces fall together. "My Russian" is a poignant and thoughtful story that deserved the New York Times designation as "Notable Book of 1999". I loved it.
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Format: Paperback
This novel is a collage of flashbacks and vignettes about regrets, disappointment, confusion, sorrow, feeling out of place in your own life. If you are intrigued with character studies and well sketched observations, you may devour this as I did. The reader is drawn in alongside this woman as she ponders what to do next in her life, how she got where she presently is. At times the book made me impatient for a clearly defined plot. But it is this mystery-collage style that builds suspense, the final chapters bringing excellent closure. It is often a dark, sad book but also intensely fascinating. It is rare that I cannot put a book down - I charged through this in just several days. Highly recommended if you like an absorbing psychological puzzle!
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