The Pull of the Past
RICHARD RUSSO RIFFS ON HUMOR, IDENTITY, AND HAPPINESS
The Collected Poetry
“She’s a lifelong
favorite of mine.
I picked up her
poems recently, as
I often do, and again
she made me weep—
Q: Jack Griffin, the 55-year-old narrator of your novel That
OldCapeMagic(Knopf ), can’t find the right spot in which
to spread his father’s ashes. At one point he frets that “a strong gust might
come up and he’d be wearing his father.” Was that image deliberate?
A: My editor felt that line should be more literal, but I wanted Grif to be wearing
his father, not his father’s ashes. That is Griffin’s metaphor for the inevitability
that as he gets older—as we all get older—the laws of genetics will be obeyed.
Q: Griffin fears he is becoming his father. Do you fear you’re becoming yours?
A: When I get out of bed now at age 60, I’ve caught myself making the same
sounds my father used to! My lower back feels just like his must have.
Q: Was there a catalyst for this book?
A: Within the past 18 months, both my daughters got married, which may explain why a wedding anchors each of the book’s two parts. For a year before that,
I was hip-deep in preparations. These things don’t come off overnight anymore.
Q: When will a Richard Russo novel feature a middle-aged male who is happy?
A: The happier a fictional character is, the less conflicted he is—and the less
conflict, the less story. Contentment is the stuff of good living, not good fiction.
Q: Do you have any idea how funny you are?
A: I didn’t write anything funny for the first two years [of my career]. Then one
day I wrote the scene of Dallas Younger looking for his teeth [Mohawk, 1986],
and it came alive on the page. I recall thinking, “Oh, I get it—maybe I’m a comic
novelist?” All writers have revelations about their identity, and mine was that it’s
okay to make people laugh. That’s as close to “truth” as I’ll ever get. —Allan Fallow
Patrols BY TERRY MORT
fishing meets big-game
hunting as Hemingway
and crew scour the ocean
off Cuba for German
U-boats in 1942 and ’ 43. The main event
here is Papa’s quest for happiness with
third wife—and rival—Martha Gellhorn.
How the Beatles
Destroyed Rock ’n’ Roll
BY ELIJAH WALD (OXFORD
UNIVERSI TY PRESS). A
smart, inclusive celebra-
tion of mainstream stars,
such as 1920s bandleader
Paul Whiteman and the Fab Four, who
introduced jazz, blues, and other rough-
hewn musical forms to mass audiences.
This Is Where I
Leave You B Y JONATHAN
TROPPER (DUTTON). The
mother is a 63-year-old
celebrity“expert” on par-
enting. The adult children
bicker and banter. And
now the unruly Foxman clan must mourn
their father for seven days…in the same
house. Hilarity and dysfunction ensue.
Wear Seat Belts BY CICI
McNAIR (CENTER STREET).
A former southern belle
recounts her midlife jour-
ney from global vagabond
to New York City private
eye in this colorful memoir. Her “drug of
choice”? Adrenaline. The line that gets her
pulse racing? “I’ve got a case for you.”
AUTHOR PHOTOGRAPH BY ULF ANDERSEN; ILLUSTRATION BY ZACH TRENHOLM
A Woman in Full
Half-Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by
Jeanette Walls (Scribner). Walls does
her Texas-bred grandmother proud by
making her the gutsy narrator of this
sprawling, slightly fic-
tionalized memoir. Lily
Casey Smith (b. 1901)
and her spartan ap-
proach to life are back
in vogue: “I had what
I had and I needed to
make the most of it.” ;