In The Whore's Child
, Richard Russo's first collection of short fiction, the 2002 Pulitzer Prize-wining author of Empire Falls
explores difficult emotional territory while retaining the assured wisdom and humor of his best work. Infidelity, self-reflection, and the fallibility of memory come into consideration in this entertaining and perceptive collection. The book's titular story sets the tone for the whole: an elderly nun crashes a college writing workshop and composes her own life story, sharing the details of her childhood growing up in a convent as the abandoned daughter of a prostitute. As her troubling story unfolds, the class realizes the fictions she has unknowingly imposed upon it. Other stories examine familial relationships and responsibility: the bittersweet "Joyride" follows the desperate road trip of a mother and son, each running from troubles they won't admit to. The collection's best and most lighthearted story, "The Mysteries of Linwood Hart," explores the daydreaming, curious mind of 10-year-old Linwood as he ponders the self-defeating behavior of his family, the desires of inanimate objects, and his perceived place at the center of the universe. Russo surveys these subjects with skilled ease and accuracy, communicating a quiet understanding of his characters and their personal yet universal concerns. Russo, like Flannery O'Connor, has a gift for conveying the absurdity and severity of everyday life with brutal honesty, humor, and compassion:
It was an awful place, but Lin understood it was as perfectly real as every place else in the world, which was large beyond imagining, containing every single place he himself had ever been or never would see in his entire life.
Uncommon in its natural insight, The Whore's Child
recognizes the often unwelcome realities of experience and is all the more exceptional for it. --Ross Doll
From Publishers Weekly
Russo's sterling reputation is largely due to his astounding ability to present the tangled emotions of troubled parent-child and marital relationships with comic verve, bracing clarity and dramatic tension fused with an undercurrent of pathos. These predicaments are well represented in the seven stories of his first collection, whose protagonists betray themselves and others in different social milieus. The brassy, flaky mother in "Joy Ride," who leaves her stodgy husband in Camden, Maine, and drives across the continent with her 12-year-old son in search of "freedom," may have much in common with the overbearing, intellectually pretentious mother in "The Mysteries of Linwood Hart," in which her 10-year-old son tries to fathom the implicit but inexplicable rules of adult behavior, but one woman is forced to admit defeat in the marital game, and the other is triumphant. In another case of parallel identities, the emotionally constricted college professor in "The Farther You Go" and the professor emeritus in "Buoyancy" must both acknowledge betrayal of their wives, not through deeds but as a result of their cold self-absorption. Ironically, the misogynistic Hollywood photographer in "Monhegan Light" learns a bitter lesson in Martha's Vineyard when he discovers his dead wife's decency in protecting him from knowledge of her longtime affair. The most memorable character here, however, is the title story's Sister Ursula, the daughter of a prostitute whose lifelong search for her absent father ends with a heartbreaking epiphany. Russo's rueful understanding of the twisted skein of human relationships is as sharp as ever, and the dialogue throughout is barbed, pointed and wryly humorous. The collection is a winner.
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