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The Risk Pool Paperback – April 12, 1994

4.6 out of 5 stars 136 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Brilliantly fulfilling the promise of his first novel, Mohawk , Russo's "richly satisfying narrative" is about the coming-of-age of Ned Hall, son of Sam Hall--a disreputable barfly, petty thief and gambler whose wicked ways place him at the lower end of the insurance risk pool. PW called the author's prose style "as seductive as spring."
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A story of not-so-successful folk in a decaying town in New York as seen through the eyes of Ned Hall, better known as "Sam's son." Sam was once an average citizen who grew up, married, and went off to fight in World War II but returned a drifter. Leaving his wife and small son at home, he would haunt the bars and pool halls and hobnob with his cronies. Now and then he'd appear from nowhere to take Ned with him. When Ned's mother, Jenny, trips over the edge, Ned goes to live with Sam in a dilapidated loft above the town's one department store and shares his father's roguish life. Ned's 20-year story is filled with wonderfully drawn characters and hilarious adventures but the subtext is one of sadness and near desperation. Highly recommended. Marion Hanscom, SUNY at Binghamton Lib.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (April 12, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679753834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679753834
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Sam Hall's kid is having to grow up on his own. His mother is a victim of a serious mental illness that renders her totally insubstantial as a parent and/or gaurdian--when she's not in the hospital. Sam Hall is the town vagabond--the kind of guy who lives on the edge, is constantly on the move, so immeresed in his own schemes and shennanigans he's hardly got time for his kid. As a result Sam's boy essentially raises himself and spends his time wondering how his parents ever got this way, while flip flopping form the "care" of one parent to the other.
What makes this book work is that, flawed as the characters are, Russo nevertheless infuses them with the souls of real people. We can bemoan the fact that Sam's a lousy dad, and not that great a person overall, but it's hard to get too worked up about it as the fact is you kind of like the guy. In fact, this novel abounds in characters who are unsavory yet so brilliantly drawn and presented, we feel we know them well, warts and all.
Additionally, Russo is a master at rendering the landscape of the small town, painting a picture that isn't all that attractive yet abounds in appealing context and situations--that is, he makes Mowhawk feel like home feels, regardless of where you grew up.
In the end, what one is left with is a story--a rarity thses days. The novel is funny, sad, insiprational, gross and absorbing--in short, it's a lot like real life. What makes it an extraordinary story is that Russo pulls from it the extrordinary revelations about life, love, loyalty, stupidity, passion and loss that we ought to get out of our own lives but somehow don't.
A truly remarkable book.
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Format: Paperback
Russo's first book, Mohawk, was beautifuly written with a realistic cast of characters, but I found that it was weighed down by a totally uninteresting and uninspiring plot.
The Risk Pool takes the best elements of his first work, sprinkles in an even more colorful assortment of barflies and other sundry and sordid characters, and actually takes us on a sprawling journey of a son and his relationship with his hard-livin', hard-drinkin' father.
Once again, Russo goes through great lengths to make his characters three-dimensional and genuine. He is a master of setting you right down in the bars, fishing holes, trailers, coldwater flats and smoking convertibles and getting you acquainted with Ned Hall and his father, Sam, and all their friends. He has a remarkable talent of making you feel as if you've known these guys for years. Russo also peppers these individuals with some fantastic, realistic dialogue that had me laughing out loud in places (especially when the fellas were discussing and debating the attempted suicide of a local resident).
Russo makes no attempt to hide the many flaws in his characters; even the narrator, Ned, is a compulsive liar who seems to be an emotionally-detached observer and not a participant in his his own relationships with friends and lovers. His father, Sam, despite all of his problems (drinking, gambling, fighting, run-ins with the law, etc.), is made into a believably sympathetic character by Russo, and the author really captures that weird bond between a son and his father regardless of Sam's many, many negatives.
Don't read this book looking for wacky hijinks or any profound insights into life, love or relationships. Thankfully, The Risk Pool never gets sappy or over romanticized like other parent-child novels.
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Format: Paperback
The Risk Pool is a stellar read. I greatly enjoyed it and would reccomend it to readers of all genres. For those not familiar with Russo's writing style, he cleverly combines the more serious moments in life with a wonderful sense of humor as is seen throughout this novel. There are so many wonderful examples of clever comedy in the book that to mention one would not suffice to say just how good it is. Russo has a strong command of tone in relation to the book's humor. Also, he provides us with many interesting and often unusual family situations- the character of Sam Hall (Ned's father) is most often at the center of such circumstances. Another wonderful facet to Russo's novel is his depiction of the make-believe Central New York town of Mohawk. It is as if the town is real- maybe even Russo's birthplace- that is how vivid and wonderful his imagery of Mohawk is. Nonetheless, such conclusions are for the rest of the reading public to decide- once again, it is truly a wonderful book.
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Format: Paperback
With "Empire Falls" winning a Pulitzer Prize and being made into an HBO movie with a star-studded cast, it would be natural to assume that Empire Falls is the best book that Richard Russo has written yet. I tend to think that just as sometimes an Academy Award is given to an actor or director for a body of work rather than for their best work, Russo winning the Pulitzer falls into this same category. Empire Falls is very good, but Russo fans might argue that Nobody's Fool, Straight Man or Risk Pool might be even better.

Personally, I think Risk Pool is Russo's best book for three reasons. First, Sam Hall is the best main character in any Russo book to date (with Sully from Nobody's Fool being a close second). There is much to dislike about Sam Hall's actions and he'll never win any "Father of the Year" contests, but Russo somehow wins you over to liking Sam Hall and forgiving him (as his son, Ned Hall does) for his many sins. Second, Russo's greatest strength as a writer is in his minor characters and Risk Pool again has the most numerous and best developed cast of minor characters that add alot of richness to the book. Third, Risk Pool probably has the most mystery of any of Russo's other books, with numerous subplots and minor characters that do not always get neatly resolved. Unlike other of Russo's books, there is a little more room in Risk Pool for speculation as to what "might" have happened.

Having seen "Nobody's Fool" already made into a solid Hollywood movie and "Empire Falls" made into an HBO movie, I am somewhat surprised that Risk Pool also has not received consideration for movie treatment.
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