Thursday, October 11, 2007


You might not have been able to tell from my previous post of October 3rd that I had not yet finished Russo's new novel. But, alas, it doesn't matter because, although there were plenty of surprises, the book delivered in every way.

This novel is remarkably conceived and executed. Many times I felt that the author was going out on a tangential limb (and taking readers with him), one which we would all regret scaling. But, invariably, each limb would weave effortlessly into a web of other branches laid out previously with either reckless abandon or great faith, quite possibly both.

The main character of this transcendent novel, Lucy Lynch is, like his father, a terminal optimist and a believer in the idea that what you see in life is pretty much what you get. Despite his mother Tessa's continuing attempts to teach them both that one cannot always trust people, that life is full of nasty surprises, that a healthy cynicism is necessary to survival and that the depressed little upstate town of Thomaston, New York is no place to thrive or get a sense of life's possibilities, the two go about their own lives contentedly and creating a kind of oasis for their friends and family.

The oasis comes in the form of "Ikey Lubins" a corner market that Lucy's dad, Lou, buys in a moment of what most people, including Tessa, would call an act of stupidity. Tessa declares that she will never step foot inside the store and, for a long time, she doesn't. But, inevitably, Tessa's intelligence and common sense are necessary to the store's survival.

A wonderful book. I recommend it!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Power Concedes Nothing

"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation
are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.
They want rain without thunder and lightning.
They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters.
This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one;
or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.
Power concedes nothing without demand.
It never has, and it never will."

-- Frederick Douglass

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I have become a fan of Richard Russo's writing, to the point of cornering him at a book festival here in Ann Arbor and demanding to know when his next book would be published. I had devoured all of his previous works.

Finally released in September, his newest book, The Bridge of Sighs, is both a natural continuation of his brilliant examination of smalltown American life and in marked contrast to his previous efforts; the contrast lying in a kind of sea change in his exploration of family life. In virtually all of his previous works the protaganist is haunted or hounded by a father who is the antithesis of the loving and/ or ineffectual figure of American myth and television. Russo's fathers are, typically, rascals, drunkards or bullies, sometimes embarassing and often frightening, even in death. The parents are, inevitably, divorced, estranged or locked in some tragic relationship from which there seems to be no escape.

Typical, also, is the almost exclusive focus on the father/son relationship, stained and traumatized as it is by that of the parents. And, while those dark themes are ever-present in this new novel, Russo seems to have miraculously stumbled onto an opposite set of circumstances where a son loves and adores his father, where the feelings are mutual, where the reality of the apple not falling far from the tree is not quite as bitter as it is sweet. And, to Russo's great credit, his gift for creating characters, relationships and situations that ring true and move the reader are as evident in this new, almost idyllic world, as they are in his well catalogued explorations of loneliness and tragedy.

I say "almost idyllic" because, in fact, there is plenty of pain, darkness, fear and violence to counter any sense of romanticized family life. Again, to his credit, Russo does not shy away from the realities of racism, violence, poverty and classism in American life. Wheras, previously, Russo masterfully wove humor and irony into his tales of abject loneliness, he now brings in the most painful of realities as counter-point to this uplifting story of Lou C. (Lucy) Lynch and his love affair with his own,imperfect life.

More to come on The Bridge of Sighs,...!