Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Book Review: "Trajectory: Stories" by Richard Russo

Some authors make you wait a while between books. In some cases, it's a L-O-N-G while. And then, sometimes, the fates smile upon us—in just about a year we've gotten not only Everybody's Fool (see my original review) from Richard Russo, but now we have Trajectory, a collection of four stories, which again show why he is a writer to be reckoned with.

But don't be fooled into thinking that because Trajectory contains only four stories, it will be a quick, breezy read. That is not the case. Nearly 260 pages in length, these stories have heft, complexity, and emotional depth. Each of the stories have their roots in Russo's oft-visited New England (although a portion of one story is set in Venice, home of his beautiful novel Bridge of Sighs), and feature characters at emotional crossroads.

I really enjoyed all four stories, although I struggled a little bit with the longest of the four, "Voice," in which a former academic recovering from a professional catastrophe agrees to accompany his estranged brother on a trip to Venice, and finds their relationship has disintegrated even more than he imagined. I liked the story but it shifted back and forth from Venice to the narrator's academic crisis a little too often, and I'm never enamored of books whose plot turns on a failure to communicate.

The other three stories were tremendously moving, and I had a hard time picking a favorite. The stories were: "Intervention," about a realtor facing a major medical crisis who is reminded of his father's being in the same position years before—and he wonders if he should follow his father's actions; "Milton and Marcus," in which a once-semi-successful writer is enticed by an elderly movie star to revive a script he wrote years ago, only to be bewildered by the racket of show business; and "Horseman," which tells of a college professor unnerved by both professional and personal challenges, and unsure what her next step should be on both fronts.

I've always said that the mark of a good story is when I find myself thinking about what happened to the characters after the story ends, and wishing I could read a novel just with those characters. Each of the stories in Trajectory fall in those categories, both because I became so enamored of the characters, and I would have loved to get more of their backstories.

I have loved Richard Russo since I picked up Mohawk in 1986. I have read every one of his books since then, and even when they don't quite click, I can't get enough of his storytelling. I just hope the embarrassment of riches we've experienced this year doesn't mean an even longer wait for his next book!!

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