Book Review: "Elsewhere" by Richard Russo

An ode and a lamentation to the Pulitzer-prize winning author's mother

by Susanna Sonnenberg
elsewhere cover image

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist’s memoir of life with his single mother is at once an ode to her and a lamentation.  From his youth in the grim upstate New York tannery town of Gloversville to his college days in Tucson, through marriage and fatherhood, Russo’s mother is there with her refrain: “It’s you I need.” He drives her, tends her, soothes her, houses her. He examines his filial responsibility, only occasionally grumbling that such duty can be a burden. “She’d never really considered us two separate people,” he explains with compassion,  “but rather one entity, oddly cleaved by time and gender, like fraternal twins somehow born twenty-five years apart, destined in some strange way to share a common destiny.” Though during her life he tries valiantly to show his mother that they are two distinct people, Russo wonders after her death if he owes much of his novel-writing talent to the trait he shares with her: “sheer cussedness.”

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