January 13, 2013

Elsewhere by Richard Russo

It must have taken a lot of courage for Pulitzer-prizewinning author Richard Russo to write this searing memoir. It even takes some courage to read it. It is more the story of his mother's life than his own, although the level to which the two were intertwined is the disturbing element of the book. Russo realized only after his mother's death that she had been mentally ill all her life with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and that rather than helping her, he may often instead have been enabling.

His father (separated from his mother since Richard was a young boy) and other relatives had tried to tell him in various ways over the years that his mother was "nuts," and "crazy," - the lingo for mental illness in the mid-20th century. But Richard loved his mother who had convinced him that he was her rock and that her happiness depended on him. He writes wrenchingly of the cost (both horrendous financial as well as emotional costs)of this dysfunctional relationship to his marriage and family and most of all to himself.

Other themes that wend themselves through the book are the death of the industrial towns of the northeastern US, the terrible toll manufacturing took on workers in the early part of the last century, and of the conflicted relationships we have with our hometown.

A highly worthwhile read.

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