By Richard Russo
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95, 246 pages
Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo grew up in upper state New York in the small town of Gloversville. Once known for the leather products produced in its tanneries and factories, it is now both a economically depressed and environmentally toxic landscape that left no one who ever lived there untouched. Each of his best-selling novels, that include Empire Falls, Nobody’s Fool and most recently That Old Cape Magic, towns like Gloversville frequently figure prominently in the narrative. In his first non-fiction work, Russo again returns to his hometown but this time as a backdrop to a poignant memoir that recounts the formative but often trying relationship he had with his mother, Jean. Feeling caged by the small town people and values of Gloversville, elsewhere was always a place that should have been busier, more prosperous, prettier, cleaner, happier but never was.
This is a loving and clear-eyed portrait of a difficult and unhappy woman who never found her place in the world and what it meant to be her only child. Readers who enjoy Russo’s fiction will appreciate this autobiographical peek at a person and place that shaped who he is as a writer.
Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen