Monday, June 24, 2013

Review of Elsewhere

ElsewhereIn Elsewhere, Richard Russo recounts a lifetime of episodes showcasing his mother’s fears. By the end of her life, a sky-high stack of such episodes teetered perilously in life’s breezes. That the tremulous tower never toppled is due to decades of her devoted son’s solicitude.  A life story such as Jean Russo’s could have become tiresome if told by a less masterful storyteller than her son. Though Jean’s myriad anxieties permeate the family stories of origins and travels and troubles, Richard tells the stories interestingly, mixing vivid memories with insightful observations about character and relationships.

Besides his mother’s eccentricities, another thread throughout the stories is her delusions that any place else would be better than where she was. Hence, the book’s title, Elsewhere. The book also looks at the legacy of the leather-tanning industry in Russo’s home town, Gloversville, New York.

Despite the stressful subject, I was always eager to pick up the book again for the next stories. And I hope Richard Russo writes a sequel, because I think Elsewhere leaves unanswered questions. He begins asking questions such as, “How could I have failed to see in myself the very traits I’d so confidently assigned to her?” [p. 161] But he doesn’t satisfactorily answer them. And he probes psychological underpinnings of his mother’s anxieties and suspects his own behaviors were enabling. But as his hindsight lengthens, an author as observant and sensitive as Russo will no doubt have more self-reflections to share. And I’d buy that Who am I? book, too. I might even like that better than this book, which is more of a Who was my mother? memoir.

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