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Elsewhere: A memoir by Richard Russo
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Elsewhere: A memoir (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Richard Russo

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3772128,622 (3.76)41
Member:BALE
Title:Elsewhere: A memoir
Authors:Richard Russo
Info:Knopf (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Read, Read but unowned
Rating:***1/2
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Elsewhere: A memoir by Richard Russo (2012)

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How to describe this one? Russo says it best with his statement that this book is “a story of intersections: of place and time, of private and public, of linked destinies and flawed devotion.”. In [Elsewhere: A Memoir], Russo turns his gift for writing about the human condition into an examination of his mother, a complicated, high-spirited and needy individual utterly dependent upon everyone she knew and at odds with her all-consuming desire for total independence. While Russo says that this one is “more my mother’s story than mine”, Russo’s role as the main anchor his mother clung to makes this a story also about Russo and the familial ties that can bind and constrict. It is a sad, reflective and somewhat emotional tale that one can only hope was a cathartic one for Russo to write. While it is billed as being a hilarious and bittersweet account of this lifelong bond Russo had with his mother, I found the humour, what there was anyways, is limited to some of the dialogue Russo engaged in with his mom, and some of the comments/reactions that occur. It is not a funny tale, by any means. It is rather a bleak and honest account of a relationship that was for a Russo akin to a millstone around his neck. That is not to say that there was no love, just that some loves are more challenging than others. the melancholy tone of this one can be summed up best by the following quote:

”I just wish you could be happy, Mom,” he says, heartbroken. “I used to be,” she responds. “I know you don’t believe that, but I was.”

Sadly, this is a sorrowful story filled with ‘what ifs’ and leaves the reader with no happy redemption, optimistic realism or any satisfying answers, but even with the bleakness, I still found it to be a beautiful, honest story. ( )
4 vote lkernagh | Feb 21, 2016 |
Two themes pervade novelist Richard Russo's memoir: his Gloversville, New York, hometown, in an economic decline that paralleled the decline of the glove industry, and his relationship with his mother, who settled near him with each move beginning with his university education in Arizona and extending to his subsequent career moves to Illinois and Maine. Russo's parents divorced when he was very young, and his mother became emotionally dependent on her only child. His mother's difficult personality added another dimension to the challenge of providing care and support for her as her health declined. It was only after another family member was diagnosed with a mental disorder that Russo realized that his mother had a mental illness. Russo seems to have worked out his memories and emotions in this memoir. He does briefly touch on his writing life and some of his novels, but the focus never shifts from his relationship with his troubled mother. Russo reads the audiobook version himself, which makes listening a very intimate experience. If he ever tires of writing, he could probably make a living from audiobook narration! ( )
1 vote cbl_tn | Feb 18, 2016 |
A nonfiction look at the author's life with his troubled mother. She starts the book coming off as a hero, but as the reader gets to know her the strain of her mental illness becomes apparent. The book was exhausting at times, as I'm sure the situation was in real life. I loved learning more about the small town life of a factory town in Maine as well. ( )
  bookworm12 | Nov 19, 2015 |
This memorable book thoroughly and compassionately deconstructs the complex and intense relationship of a son and his troubled mother in “one of the most honest, moving American memoirs in years,” said Michael Schaub for NPR. Russo’s mother Jean suffered from “nerves” throughout her lifetime. She was a demanding, needy person, not unaware of her own flaws and shortcomings, and intermittently troubled by them. Russo, an only child, was her rock. She was also a pretty, lively woman, who went to extraordinary lengths to maintain the illusion she was living an independent life.
Only after Jean’s death did Russo learn enough about obsessive-compulsive disorder to fit the facts of her behavior to the characteristics of this syndrome, making a post hoc layman’s diagnosis. And only then did he come to the heartbreaking realization that his way of helping her might not have been the help she needed. She may have been a frustrating parent, but she just couldn’t help it.
The writing here is smooth as silk and contains great deal of humor. The well-rounded picture of the complex and loving mother-son relationship that Russo creates makes the reader more keenly feel the guilt Russo has suffered, despite his heroic efforts to respond to her plea, It’s you I need. (Meanwhile, in my opinion, Russo’s wife Barbara is a candidate for sainthood.)
He also gives a vivid picture of his home town of Gloversville, New York—a back-on-its-heels former leather-manufacturing town, whose tanneries poisoned workers and the watershed alike (he won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Empire Falls, another post-industrial sad-sack of a town). Russo’s mother Jean couldn’t wait to get out of there, except when she couldn’t wait to get back. This cycle had a depressing regularity that continued for decades.
These are people well worth knowing and a relationship that’s understood far better than I understand what in the world went on with my own parents. Tiny bit jealous of Russo’s ability—the intellectual and emotional honesty and the depth of insight—to pull this one off so well. ( )
  Vicki_Weisfeld | Nov 3, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (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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