A funny, bittersweet novel about two weddings and a divorce, parents, family myth and memory
Richard Russo won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for his fifth novel Empire Falls (made into a TV series starring Paul Newman, Ed Harris, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Helen Hunt). He is also the author of Mohawk, The Risk Pool, Nobody's Fool (filmed with Paul Newman), Straight Man and Bridge of Sighs, as well as a collection of stories, The Whore's Child. His original screenplay is the basis for Rowan Atkinson's film Keeping Mum, with Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas. He lives with his wife in Maine and in Boston.
Crafting a dense, flashback-filled narrative that stutters across two summer outings to New England (and as many weddings), Russo (Empire Falls) convincingly depicts a life coming apart at the seams, but the effort falls short of the literary magic that earned him a Pulitzer. A professor in his 50s who aches to go back to screenwriting, Jack Griffin struggles to divest himself of his parents. Lugging around, first, his father's, then both his parents' urns in the trunk of his convertible, he hopes to find an appropriate spot to scatter their ashes while juggling family commitments-his daughter's wedding, a separation from his wife. Indeed, his parents-especially his mother, who calls her son incessantly before he starts hearing her from beyond the grave-occupy the narrative like capricious ghosts, and Griffin inherits "the worst attributes of both." Though Russo can write gorgeous sentences and some situations are amazingly rendered-Griffin wading into the surf to try to scatter his father's ashes, his wheelchair-bound father-in-law plummeting off a ramp and into a yew-the navel-gazing interior monologues that constitute much of the novel lack the punch of Russo's earlier work. (Aug.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Joy and Jack Griffin head to Cape Cod to attend a friend's wedding, where their daughter Laura announces her own engagement. Sensing the malaise in their 30-year marriage, the Griffins decide to reconnect by visiting the B & B where they once honeymooned. Their arrival in separate vehicles seems symbolic of the discord in their hearts and minds. Jack, still coming to terms with his father's death and bristling at his mother's constant criticism, feels restless in his career as a college professor, wondering whether he should have left a lucrative screenwriting gig in L.A. Joy, chafing at Jack's implicit displeasure with her sunny disposition and maddening family, longs for an empathetic listener. Russo lovingly explores the deceptive nature of memory as each exquisitely drawn character attempts to deconstruct the family myths that inform their relationships. Verdict The Griffins may not find magic on old Cape Cod, but readers will. Those who savored Russo's long, languid novels (e.g., Pulitzer winner Empire Falls) may be surprised by this one's rapid pace, but Russo's familiar compassion for the vicissitudes of the human condition shines through. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/09.]-Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
"The remarkable thing about this novel is its resemblance to real
life. Russo creates a family that is utterly recognisable and
unique... superb" * The Times *
"Russo meditates on memory, ageing, inheritance, marriage, desire and the meaning of happiness... Written with humour and assurance" * Guardian *
"Russo brings a familiar story to life with wit, elegance, deftness and empathy" * Sunday Times *
"A novel for people who are terrified of becoming their parents... A dyspeptic romantic comedy... [And] an utterly charming novel. If you always cry at weddings, you'll cry at this - and laugh, too" * Washington Post *
"Russo has a knack for capturing the most intimate details in the lives of ordinary people" * Chicago Tribune *