Friday, March 1, 2013
Interventions: A Novella and Three Stories
Readers of Richard Russo's fiction are familiar with the rust-belt towns where characters eked out a living. But in "High and Dry," Russo describes Gloversville, N.Y., his boyhood home. Home to once flourishing glove-making factories, its denizens now live unemployed. When regulations were imposed on these factories forcing them to maintain safety standards and protect the environment from harmful bi-products, the companies moved overseas. Russo writes a glowing indictment of these companies while painting a heart-felt description of his single mother and his grandparents.
"Horseman," the next story in the collection, is the weakest in the group. It features a female professor who has reached a plateau in her career while acknowledging her loveless marriage. Her autistic son has bonded with her husband, making her feel unwelcome in her own home. The problem with the story is that the professor is so distant and self-centered that she draws little sympathy.
This is not the case with the nun in "The Whore's Child." Cleverly written, it centers on a nun seeking solace in a professor's writing class. The nun's story unfolds in captivating installments as she works out the history of her life through what she has written. The juxtaposition of the nun reading her tale to the young students, and ultimately, seeing the truth through their eyes is a touching literary conceit.
Likewise, "Intervention," the 67-page novella, is a return to Russo's familiar themes. In attempting to help a client pack up the detritus of her life and sell her home, a realtor comes to terms with his own mortality as well as the gifts of a loving wife and good friends. Thinking of his father and his submission to cancer, Ray ponders:
What sort of man comes home from the doctor, calmly sits down in his favorite chair...and waits for his own death as if it would arrive like a slow-moving taxi, plowing dutifully through winter slush? For that matter, what sort of man stubbornly refuses to consider that it need not be this way, that in addition to snow and slush there existed in the known world both sun and clean, sparkling water. (p. 39)
It is only then that Ray recognizes that he, like his father, does not think himself "special" and hence worthy of treatment. Healing, both physically and emotionally, proceeds from recognition of the truth.
Richard Russo is again at his best in this small, insightful and colorful package.
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