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Elsewhere: A memoir by Richard Russo
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Elsewhere: A memoir (2012)

by Richard Russo

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This is Richard Russo's memoir about his mother, who suffered from undiagnosed and certainly untreated mental illness. From how he describes it, and things he learned after her death, it seems like some combination of OCD and anxiety.

It's a very caring memoir, even as he relates mostly horrific stories about coping with his mother, it's clear he loves her very much. It's still a hard read - particularly since it's not the kind of memoir that's about making a peace with a troublesome situation. I was somewhat surprised that he didn't realize, until after her death, that this was an actual mental illness as opposed to a never-ending series of unfortunate personality quirks -- intellectually I realize that a person could be too close to a situation to evaluate it, and he grew up with it and probably normalized a lot of her behaviors, but still, wow. It was extreme. His wife is a saint.

Thematically, a lot of the book also deals with his hometown, which I think we're all pretty familiar with from his novels, this central NY post-industrial dying town. I was also surprised by how much he hates it. I'm not even sure he knows how much he hates it. ( )
  delphica | Jun 9, 2015 |
Elsewhere by Richard Russo; (4 1/2*)

After his mother's passing Russo wrote the memoir that focused primarily on his lifelong relationship with his mother. The story is low key as the author reflects upon his mother's puzzling behaviors during his childhood while he watched her quickly alternate from a depressed state to that of being intense and manic. He relives the confusion that riddled his entire childhood and early adult years through this narrative. The story is slow paced and unravels gradually.
Although the mystique of his mother's tendencies was hidden from the author for most of his life the behaviors of her are spelled out in detail during the memoir. The strong family bonds that were formed between the author and his mother provide a backdrop for the threads of this family's life struggle to survive, prosper and to be 'normal'. Their sense of love and loyalty is felt throughout the memoir.
This is an excellent example of how mental illness can affect the emotional development of children. Especially when the children absorb too much of the responsibility that is entailed in caring for a parent. I don't wish to give away details but suffice it to say that Russo writes by recounting his memories before he became aware of the complexities of his mother's behaviors.
The writing is not compact enough to create emotional tension but it does convey the idea that something is amiss. The reader will not know what it is exactly until the book is completed. The story is a long personal narrative by a Pulitzer Prize winning author and will be especially revealing for any one who has dealt with similar issues.
This one hit so close to home with me. At times I felt as if I was looking into a mirror. Highly recommended. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Feb 27, 2015 |
I am a fan of Richard Russo and read his first five novels. He's written four others since then, so I know I've slipped some. ELSEWHERE, a 'kind-of-a-memoir,' is a totally different animal from his fiction. What he has to say about his hometown of Gloversville, New York, explains a lot about the central theme of most of his fiction - that sad, nearly expired economy of small upstate mill towns. But the central focus of this memoir is Russo's long and frustrating close relationship with his single mom, Jean, who followed him when he went west to college, and kept on shadowing him and demanding his attention for the rest of her life, even after he married and moved several times and had children. It's a sad, dark tale of a woman who didn't seem to know what the hell she wanted, and was so obviously mentally disturbed that it seems hard to believe Russo himself didn't recognize her serious illness, which was only officially diagnosed when she was in her late seventies. Within the family, her condition was subtly called 'nerves.' Russo's father, a shiftless alcoholic gambler long separated/estranged from Jean, warned Rick early on that she was crazy, but Russo refused to acknowledge it for decades, even with his mother following him all over the country and causing him myriad problems, intruding into his marriage and family life. A doctor finally diagnosed her as suffering from OCD, but, judging from Russo's own description of his mother, she was probably also bipolar. In any case, she was a pitiful deluded mess for most of her life.

But what comes clear in Russo's narrative is how devoted he was to his wacko mother, and how, despite all odds, he never abandoned her (her worst fear), and for that one has to admire him.

Nevertheless, ELSEWHERE is not an easy or pleasant read. I found myself constantly wincing throughout this sad story of a life gone haywire. It does however, shed a lot of light on the origins of Russo's fiction - characters and settings alike. If you are a Russo reader, then this memoir-cum-biography should probably be required reading. ( )
  TimBazzett | Feb 28, 2014 |
De verhuiszieke, manisch-depressieve moeder van de schrijver is een levenslange zorg voor hem. Pas na haar overlijden komt hij er achter dat ze aan een dwangneurose leed. ( )
  joucy | Jan 7, 2014 |
Russo's memoir is written in a way that is both tightly focussed on the two main characters, mother and son, and a carefully matter-of-fact almost deadpan style (and then we did this, and then we did that), creating a tension between what he was saying and what I was 'getting'. Could he really have never realized that his mother was an obsessive-compulsive until after she had died? Yes, obviously, but it is somewhat amazing to me as he recounts this maddening story of a lifetime of caretaking his mother, basically carting her around with him wherever he went. Does he have any idea just how loyal and kind he was to her? No, even at the end of the book he's struggling with guilt and a kind of wordlessness, what if... That part I do understand, especially about the last years of a dying parent's life, how hard it is not to question every decision you made with hindsight's perfect vision. There is something, nonetheless, a bit too easy in the end about the way Elsewhere ends for me to give it a higher rating ***1/2 ( )
  sibyx | Dec 22, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Mr. Russo is too honest a writer to either romanticize or condemn his past. . . . The greatest charm of this memoir lies in the absence of self-pity and pretension in the author's take on his own history. Now that he is sitting atop a fruitful career and solid family life. Mr. Russo's dominant emotions seem to be gratitude and relief. He reports that, unlike "far too many writers," he has made "an excellent living" churning out books and screenplays. The level of responsibility he took on at an early age--because nobody else could do it for him--is the underpinning of his work ethic and success.
added by sgump | editWall Street Journal, Amy Finnerty (Nov 1, 2012)
 
Richard Russo’s first memoir, “Elsewhere,” tells the story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist’s loving and difficult relationship with his mother, Jean. Mr. Russo’s parents separated when he was a child in upstate New York. Raised by his mother, he served as her emotional wellspring, for better and worse. As Mr. Russo became a professor and a successful novelist, he remained deeply devoted to Jean, bringing her with him to Arizona and then back to the East Coast. In a recent e-mail interview, Mr. Russo discussed his decision to write about his mother, the autobiographical elements of his fiction and more. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation: .......
added by marq | editNew York Times, JOHN WILLIAMS (Oct 30, 2012)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307959538, Hardcover)

After eight commanding works of fiction, the Pulitzer Prize winner now turns to memoir in a hilarious, moving, and always surprising account of his life, his parents, and the upstate New York town they all struggled variously to escape.

Anyone familiar with Richard Russo's acclaimed novels will recognize Gloversville once famous for producing that eponymous product and anything else made of leather. This is where the author grew up, the only son of an aspirant mother and a charming, feckless father who were born into this close-knit community. But by the time of his childhood in the 1950s, prosperity was inexorably being replaced by poverty and illness (often tannery-related), with everyone barely scraping by under a very low horizon.

A world elsewhere was the dream his mother instilled in Rick, and strived for herself, and their subsequent adventures and tribulations in achieving that goal—beautifully recounted here—were to prove lifelong, as would Gloversville's fearsome grasp on them both. Fraught with the timeless dynamic of going home again, encompassing hopes and fears and the relentless tides of familial and individual complications, this story is arresting, comic, heartbreaking, and truly beautiful, an immediate classic.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:43 -0400)

This work is the author's memoir of his life, his parents, and the upstate New York town they all struggled variously to escape. Anyone familiar with the author's fiction will recognize Gloversville, New York, once famous for producing that eponymous product and anything else made of leather. This is where the author grew up, the only son of an aspirant mother and a good-time, second-fiddle father who were born into this close-knit community. But by the time of his childhood in the 1950s, prosperity was inexorably being replaced by poverty and illness (often tannery-related), everyone barely scraping by under a very low horizon. A world elsewhere was the dream his mother instilled in Rick, and strived for herself, and their subsequent adventures and tribulations, recounted here, only to prove lifelong, as would Gloversville's fearsome grasp on them both.… (more)

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