Richard Russo – The rest of The Whore’s Child & Other Stories

The final three stories of this collection – “Buoyancy”, “Poison”, and “The Mysteries of Linwood Hart” are all good stories, and I loved the last one. So combined with the first four, I’d say there’s one miss, one eh, two “hmmmmm”, and three “wow”‘s.

“Buoyancy” has some wonderful mood and setting. It takes place at an in on a New England island (yes, again). The main characters are a retired professor/writer and his wife, who had some kind of “breakdown” several years before which seemingly consisted of her sitting in front of a vacant store in the mall, staring, after having given away her wedding ring to some stranger. Such a genteel vision of a nervous breakdown. In fact, the entire story is genteel. It’s the sort of story you want to read on the porch of your own beach cottage with a vodka martini under the canopy. As with all his stories, volumes are said in describing other characters and interactions, and there is one other couple at the inn who mistake the professor of Literature for a History professor, and the man delivers a very enthusiastic but ultimately boring description of some Civil War battle for an interminable period. Nude sun bathing, skin-rejuvenating mud baths, and a towel become crucial elements, as the balance of their relationship is restored, in spite of the professor’s efforts to keep his wife as “the crazy one”. Aha. I know about that.

“Poison” again takes place at a beach house – ok, enough already – and features a writer as a main character – aargggh! – but this writer, and the buddy who visits him, is at least from blue-collar origins. The interaction is between the writer and his less-successful writer buddy, and involves some interesting relationship shifting.

“The Mysteries of Linwood Hart” is wonderful, and I just drowned in it. No writers. No beach cottages. A ten-year-old boy spends a summer baseball season wondering about many important things, such as: do objects have volition, and does a baseball want to escape the glove? His parents have separated, he interacts with both of them and doesn’t seem to understand why they do the things they do, or why people say what they say. The story reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (a book I loved) in some ways, though that was about an older, mildly autistic boy; the same kind of honest approach to adult obfuscation was effectively played throughout. The baseball coach is perhaps the only likeable adult in the story (though it isn’t certain at first that he is likeable, a very effective use of POV), and thank god he is not out to molest little boys, I was really scared we were going down that road, but no, thank you, bless you, I am so sick of child abuse being used to heighten emotional response to narratives. There was plenty to respond to in the story without it, and I was sorry the story ended when it did, and the way it did, but it felt honest. And let’s face it, things don’t usually go the best way possible anyway.

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