The Barnes & Noble Review
Read this collection of short stories from the Pulitzer Prizewinning author of Empire Falls backward. That's the only way to avoid comparing each of the other six strong stories to the masterful title piece. Inventively constructed, emotionally honest, and with a climactic punch that is both inevitable and surprising, "The Whore's Child" (the story) is as close to a perfect short story as you'll find anywhere.
To be sure, The Whore's Child (the collection) contains many other pleasures and poignant pains. "The Mysteries of Linwood Hart" is a knowing portrait of a ten-year-old whose coming-of-age is triggered not by a sexual awakening but by an understanding that he is not the center of the universe. "The Farther You Go" offers a compelling portrait of a man who finds himself surprisingly sympathetic to the son-in-law who struck his daughter. If the plot of "Joy Ride," in which a woman takes her young child on a cross-country odyssey to escape a troubled marriage, sounds familiar, rest assured that Russo's observations and conclusions are not. Even when he treads a little too closely to John Cheever territory (it's difficult to read Russo's "Buoyancy" without thinking of Cheever's "The Swimmer"), his sharp characters and spare imagery carry you through. With all those riches, though, it's "The Whore's Child" -- about a writing teacher's encounter with a nun devoid of the ability to fictionalize -- that haunts, demanding a reread as soon as the rest of the collection is complete.
This is the first collection of stories from the novelist who hit the ball out of the park with Empire Falls after building a strong and steady following for his earlier novels, including Nobody's Fool and Straight Man. As with all of his novels, The Whore's Child is a satisfying, accessible, and moving must-read. (Lou Harry)
On the heels of his recent Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, Empire Falls, Russo, noted for his depiction of declining small-town life in the Northeast, offers up his first collection of short fiction. In these seven stories, the author alternates between tales of children caught in the turmoil of their parents' fighting and tales of middle-aged writers and artists making discoveries about themselves and their pasts. In nearly every story, a male serves as the narrator or central protagonist, and readers observe how his world is shaped and altered by mothers, absent fathers and wives both dead and living. In "Monhegan Light," for example, a Hollywood moviemaker traveling in New England with his young girlfriend meets the painter who, for twenty years, carried on a secret romance with the moviemaker's now-deceased spouse. This collection provides a wealth of delights and rewards from an author who's surely hitting full stride.
Russo's sterling reputation is largely due to his astounding ability to present the tangled emotions of troubled parent-child and marital relationships with comic verve, bracing clarity and dramatic tension fused with an undercurrent of pathos. These predicaments are well represented in the seven stories of his first collection, whose protagonists betray themselves and others in different social milieus. The brassy, flaky mother in "Joy Ride," who leaves her stodgy husband in Camden, Maine, and drives across the continent with her 12-year-old son in search of "freedom," may have much in common with the overbearing, intellectually pretentious mother in "The Mysteries of Linwood Hart," in which her 10-year-old son tries to fathom the implicit but inexplicable rules of adult behavior, but one woman is forced to admit defeat in the marital game, and the other is triumphant. In another case of parallel identities, the emotionally constricted college professor in "The Farther You Go" and the professor emeritus in "Buoyancy" must both acknowledge betrayal of their wives, not through deeds but as a result of their cold self-absorption. Ironically, the misogynistic Hollywood photographer in "Monhegan Light" learns a bitter lesson in Martha's Vineyard when he discovers his dead wife's decency in protecting him from knowledge of her longtime affair. The most memorable character here, however, is the title story's Sister Ursula, the daughter of a prostitute whose lifelong search for her absent father ends with a heartbreaking epiphany. Russo's rueful understanding of the twisted skein of human relationships is as sharp as ever, and the dialogue throughout is barbed, pointed and wryly humorous. The collection is a winner. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Russo won the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, and his skills are equally on display in this collection of stories. Russo is a master of characterization, especially evidenced in two tales concerning boys worrying about their place in the world, and two others focusing on old people whose hold on their lives is slipping. But things do happen in this selection of works, a welcome change from the ethereal effects aimed at by many short story writers. The author reads his own work, and while his narration is engaging, he is no professional. Several times his voice drops at the end of sentences, swallowing what sounds like some of his best lines. These versions of Whore's Child are identical, but libraries will prefer the more expensive Sound Library recording for its stronger packaging and tape replacement policy.-John Hiett, Iowa City P.L. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Readers who loved such a roomy, generously plotted, and detailed novel the Pulitzer-winning Empire Falls won't be able to resist this first collection of seven stories by the Maine novelist. Most of the stories are closely akin to Russo's longer fiction, especially "The Farther You Go," which shows a slightly harsher side of hangdog college prof Hank Devereaux, the engaging protagonist of Straight Man-from which it is perhaps a discarded chapter? Crises peculiar to middle age and bereavement are compassionately explored in tales about a widowed filmmaker's tardy realization of what his late wife had meant to him ("Monhegan Light"); and a retired academic biographer's disturbingly personal discovery that it is "foolish and arrogant to think you could imagine the truth of another human life" ("Buoyancy"). Russo is at his best in the beautifully developed title story, in which a nun's accidental grasp of the truth about her childhood functions as epiphany also for her divorced creative-writing teacher. And he's unrivaled by any writer since the early Salinger at striking to the heart of childhood-becoming-adolescence: in the novella-length history of an introspective ten-year-old ("The Mysteries of Linwood Hart") slowly, painstakingly maturing out of his suspicion that the world revolves around him; and in the superb "Joy Ride." The latter records the experiences and observations of a preadolescent embryonic delinquent whose impulsive mother snatches him away from deeper trouble, their Maine hometown, and her eccentric underachiever of a husband, for a brief, perilous vacation from domesticity and responsibility. It's a wonderful distillation of Russo's gifts for crystal-clear narration, subtle character portrayal, and irrepressible humor, and is capped by a tonally perfect bittersweet conclusion. There may be more important writers around, but none is more likable, or more dependably entertaining and rewarding, than Russo.
“An author whose laid-back understatements can be as sharp as other writers’ boldest declarations….the architect of stories you can’t put down.” The New York Times
“[Russo] has joined those writers who can be said to have coined their own universe…. [He] achieves an emotional balance through his humor and generosity of spirit.” Chicago Sun-Times
“The most expansive of contemporary writers.” The New York Times Book Review
“Straightforward and engaging from the first page… Mr. Russo makes writing short stories seem effortless.” Wall Street Journal
“These beautifully crafted stories, made more appealing by their rueful humor, are the work of a writer at the top of his game.” –New York Post
“Russo is a master of the small moment as nuclear explosion, the life-changing turn of the screw. His writing is unornate, but as authoritative (and cool) as marble. . . .The Whore’s Child is . . . powerful and moving.” –Atlanta Journal Constitution
“The vigorous comic voice that has always been Russo’s is a great leavening force here. . . . These stories are something to be grateful for.” –Newsday
“The Whore’s Child pulsate[s] with real life.” –The New Leader
“[Russo] stands alone as the Stendhal of blue-collar America.” –Esquire
“Russo again proves himself the master of real-life angst with the comic twist. His characters are sometimes funny, often sad, but never pathetic.” –Orlando Sentinel
“The Whore’s Child should solidify his reputation….All seven stories are lovely examples of Russo’s wit and compassion.” –Newark Sunday Star-Ledger