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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Whore's Child

The Whore's Child: Stories by Richard Russo

1 of 8 people found the following review helpful:

December 8, 2003

Richard Russo can be a great writer, as "Empire Falls" proved. His best work comes in dealing with the plight of trapped citizens of small, fading industrial towns as in "Empire Falls", "Nobody's Fool", and "The Risk Pool". "The Whore's Child" then, does little to showcase his true talent. Most of the stories follow middle-aged professors experiencing mid-life regrets, a la Russo's novel "Straight Man". One story, "The Farther You Go" is later used (or copied from depending on the date of publication) almost exactly in "Straight Man", right down to the narrator's first name.

For anyone who really enjoyed "Straight Man", this collection of stories is great. Those who have little interest in aged professors with no REAL problems whining are better advised to stay away from this book. I definitely fall into the latter category.

In terms of the stories, I thought the title piece would have made a better novella or novel than a short story. The problem is that the tale of the nun is told second-hand when allowing the reader to actually read her story would better allow us to experience the story and to be moved by it as her classmates and professor were. The constraints of the short story do not allow me to get involved with Sister Ursula, so that I never really care about her.

"The Farther You Go", "Buoyancy", and "Poison" all follow along the similar line of an older married guy in a stale marriage on an island in Maine. "Monhegan Light" differs slightly in that the middle-aged guy is widowed and a cinematographer instead of a professor. None have the humor and power of Russo's better novels. "Joyride" is the story of a mother and son's doomed flight across the country that is more true to form. "The Mysteries of Linwood Hart" is the story that best captures the spirit of "Empire Falls"--it's a serious of episodes of 10-year-old Linwood Hart as he begins to truly understand the world. It is by far the best of the collection in my humble opinion.

Most of Russo's writing is good as usual, but one sentence from "Joyride" is one of the worst I have ever seen in print. It reads: "My throat constricted with the knowledge of who I was and what." Try reading that aloud; the "and what" makes no sense at the end of a sentence. "What" at the end almost implies a question, not a statement. At the very least, to end with "what" sounds incomplete, like there should be more there. The better sentence would have been "who and what I was". I can't believe an editor didn't correct that sentence; it's positively awful.

Anyway, except for "Linwood Hart" and "Joyride" (which has its moments), this collection of short stories holds little interest for those not experiencing a mid-life crisis. This attempt to cash in on the success of "Empire Falls" has convinced me that Russo needs to stick with his day job.

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