This installment: Russo’s memoir; life and death entwined in a novel; short stories by the author of Room; and new poetry by Sharon Olds.
Elsewhere by Richard Russo
A memoir by a fine storyteller, mostly about his troubled mother and their deeply tangled relationship. She was divorced and "independent" (her words) at a time when this wasn't acceptable. Her only son was "her rock." Gloversville, their home town, was "a cage" and they both broke out of it when he went to college. (He didn't realize she'd be coming along.) He got married, had a family, taught, and became a writer, but his mother was always his responsibility and a great challenge. Not until the final chapters do we find out the reason for her bizarre, contrarian ways. Very moving--such loyalty and understanding amidst nightmare circumstances.
One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper
Silver is a drummer on the skids, living at the Versailles (a funky motel turned residence), hanging out with equally funky friends. He's estranged from his college-bound daughter, Casey, and his ex is engaged to a doctor. What will roust him from this slough? Mortality--it really gets one's attention. He has a condition that can be fixed by surgery, but he decides to hell with it. At the same time Casey gets knocked up. Life and death have many skirmishes, with an operation and an abortion being considered. Silver's father, a rabbi, drags him to various rites of passage (lots of opportunities for humor here, well played out). Delightful, and eventually L'Chaim will out. Phew!
Astray by Emma Donoghue
Short stories by this always surprising Irish-Canadian author whose books take place in many eras and deal with, shall we say, challenging themes. (Her most recent, Room, is a tour de force of believable improbability.) Here she takes old news fragments and spins each into a gripping tale. The elephant Jumbo and his keeper--an intimate relationship. Two ill-fated Gold Rush miners in their misery. An orphan train child yearned for by the mother who had to give her up. The woman who discovers, on his death, that her daddy was a woman! The common theme: dislocation, which the author, in her Afterward, acknowledges as a major preoccupation in her life. Good stuff.
Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds
I was blown away by this book of poems about the end of a long marriage. It unfolds from the first revelations at the beginning of a year through the seasons and then from a considerable distance. Very accessible, visceral, and always with a finely layered mix of hurt, regret, longing, and tenderness. (He left her for a colleague, we learn from the text. He's a doctor.) These poems are for anyone who's lost something precious, i.e. for everyone. Well she lost a husband but gained a fine body of work and, as the last lines in the last poem say, "I did not leave him, he did not leave me,/ I freed him, he freed me."
Back next Monday.