Friday, January 25, 2013


I am a fan of Richard Russo's books, so I happily picked up his little memoir, Elsewhere. I knew it was about his mother, and growing up in upstate New York, and that he and his mother did not have a typical mother/son relationship. Russo grew up with his single mother Jean in Gloversville, NY, which amazingly enough used to be the "dress glove" capital of the United States. Well you can imagine what happened to that town. It comes back to life in the fictional down-and-out towns of Russo's novels, but for the young boy Russo, growing up there in the 1950s, he was "happy as a clam."

Russo escaped the town when he left for college in Arizona, and his mother never thought twice about coming with him--without a job, without a place to live. And so begins the rest of Russo's life, becoming a college professor and eventually a successful writer, and with his mother pretty much always attached to him. He is her primary caretaker for the rest of her life, moving her around the country with him and his family, finding her apartment after apartment because she is never satisfied, always moving 'elsewhere,' always chasing an elusive happiness. It's exhausting just reading about it, and a little frustrating, because he never says no to her,  never says 'that's enough, ' never admits to himself that she might be a little bit crazy. He never seems to resent her and it isn't until after her death (and she lived a long life) that he finally figures out her diagnosis, and then he feels guilty because he didn't know earlier, and didn't find her the help she needed.

While interesting to read I would have liked more details about other parts of his life, in particular his wife, who as one reviewer said, is clearly a saint.

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