Friday, November 16, 2007

Do so, do so, read Richard Russo.

Last weekend, I watched the movie Nobody's Fool. It's an older film, 1993 I think, and has a good cast that includes Paul Newman, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Jessica Tandy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the nice doctor from Nip/Tuck. Watching this film was a momentous occasion because it was a Blockbuster Online (like Netflix) selection that had sat unwatched on our mantle for at least seven weeks. To be fair, Flags of Our Fathers--the hubby's selection--kept it company on the mantle and is as yet unwatched. I enjoyed the film a great deal because I felt like it did justice to the novel that inspired it. Sure, the film didn't capture all the nuances, delights, and character details of the novel, but it did not violate the novel's integrity either. My husband stopped watching halfway through, noting that the film was more character than plot driven. An astute observation actually and one of the reasons I love, love, love the novels of Richard Russo: his characters are wonderful.

Richard Russo's characters are wonderful--wonderful, that is, in their imperfection, vulnerability, and occasional selfishness and then wonderful in their moments of kindness, generosity, and humor. In short, they are so very human. Richard Russo makes it impossible to write any of them off, even the worst of them. You feel like you know these people. You care what happens to them. You delight in the unexpected but meaningful connections and bonds they form. You marvel at how right Russo gets them. He is so observant and so compassionate. He creates people like you and me. People just doing the best they can.

Most of his novels are set in small, depressed, industrial (or formerly industrial) towns in upstate New York. Typically, Russo gives readers glimpses into the lives of characters on various sides of the tracks in these towns. His endings are not out and out happy, but they are satisfying.

I recently finished Russo's most recent novel, Bridge of Sighs. It lacked some of the humor present in his other novels, but I absolutely loved it. Here is a passage that is particularly fine: "The line of gray along the horizon is brighter now, and with the coming light I feel a certainty: that there is, despite our wild imaginings, only one life. . . . The one life we're left with is sufficient to fill and refill our imperfect hearts with joy, and then to shatter them. And it never, ever lets up. Blame love." (463). It's the filling and refilling more than the shattering that gets me.

As so often happens when I try to write or talk about books that I love, I fail to do them justice. So I'll just stop here and recommend Richard Russo if you're in need of reading material. Empire Falls, Nobody's Fool, Straight Man, The Risk Pool . . . I love and have read them all.* NTB. Taste in books is subjective, and some of you may not love Richard Russo's novels as I do, but I'd say they're more than worth a try.

*There are actually a couple of others: Mohawk, the only one I have not read, and The Whore's Child, a book of short stories.


T-Baby said...

Meppie is right when she says her taste in books is not for everyone.
If you want to read a couple good books, I strongly recommend The Count of Monte Cristo or Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

E... said...

This is as good a time as any to thank you for introducing me to Richard Russo's books, some of my favorites of all time. I'm glad you finally watched Nobody's Fool -- I saw it in the theater with my mom before I knew anything about the books, and left mesmerized. Though I'm not sure I'd want to live in a Richard Russo world, I sure do like visiting them. Did we see him together at Joseph Beth? Everytime I get an email announcing an upcoming booksigning/talk there, I mourn that you're not here to go with me.

LAP said...

Although you know that the chances of me checking out the works of Richard Russo any time soon are slim, I always enjoy your book posts as they showcase some of the reasons for your longtime passion for books.

Although Richard and I aren't tight, I can respond to t-baby in saying that I too thoroughly enjoyed the Count of Monte Cristo.

M said...

I feel I must read a Richard Russo book. I have not seen the movie either which I'm sure is not surprise to you. I agree with lap, too. It is wonderful to read your posts about books because we can feel your genuine love and passion for the written word. I believe this started before you were one, NTB. (Bobby Shaftoe)

Actchy said...

I read Empire Falls at your suggestion, MEP. It was one of those books. Sigh. Wonderful.

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