Trajectory is Russo’s most classily-named collection of short stories (his previous collection was Whore’s Child). With this work, Richard attempts to distance himself from the famed Newsweek article and his homey roots. “Compare me to (John) Irving?” Russo sneers, “how about some Nadine Gordimer?” We’re going to discuss whether or not Richard succeeds.
Entrenched In Dichotomy
In a nutshell: no. But let me also say that I recognize and appreciate his effort. Jennie Yabroff had some valid points in her 2009 article. She writes that there are male writers who famously skewer their female protagonists, notably (Phillip) Roth and (John) Updike; but their male characters are treated as roughly as their female counterparts. Yabroff maintains that Russo does no such thing; the men are Everyday Blue Collar Heros destroyed or bolstered by one of two types of female characters, either Vindictive Naggy Bitches or Beautifully Suffering Saints. It seems that Russo took these words to heart, gave a long, hard look to his Pulitzer, and attempted a break from his mold.
I admire this attempt, I truly do. However, I found the book stilted. In the first story, Horseman, Russo undertakes the female point-of-view. Richard pares down his style. Details from the character’s life are prudently shared, it is certain words used that highlight despair rather than a boozy monologue delivered in an upstate New York dive bar. The female character from Horseman had an autistic son. I quickly realized that it was the parallel of my own struggles with the diagnosing of Big A that was keeping me riveted and not the story/prose itself.
You Can Take The Man Out Of Upper New York State…
Russo seemed to deliberately (so deliberately that the book flap remarked upon it) veer away from the character prototype that has made him famous. There are no grease-monkey, down-on-their-luck, hard-scrabbling existence types here. Professors and real estate agents litter this collection. While these characters and their stories are believable, the words just don’t flow in the same way as The Risk Pool, Straight Man, and Nobody’s Fool.
The one stand out from Trajectory is Milton and Marcus, a story chronicling the travails of an aging screenwriter trying to revive a decade-plus-old script after the death of the actor attached. This story was so much more…immediate than the other ones. Did you know that Richard Russo has experience in screenwriting, both in television and movies? This leads me to divine that while I love some Richard Russo, he cannot sustain his characteristic zing unless his subjects have an autobiographical element to them. Russo has taken the classic “write what you know” admonishment to heart and cannot, as talentedly, do anything else.
What Richard Russo have you read? Do you think he can move on from the Newsweek article? Comment down below! Share this article and tag a friend who likes their authors names alliterative.