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Trajectory: Stories by Richard Russo

RussoTrajectoryRusso—novelist, screenwriter, short story writer, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction—has written a new stellar collection. Best known for his accurate depiction of working class people, Russo here paints equally sympathetic portraits of educated, middle class men and women struggling with their own sense of failure.

In “Voice,” a semi-retired professor, Nate, seeks validation of his career by projecting talent on a student who may, or may not, have any. This student, suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, is unable to speak and always sits at the periphery of the classroom. Her lack of a voice allows a kind of transference to take place.

Only much later, during a trip to Venice, does Nate understand the consequences of his own vanity.

…A man doesn’t have to be a monster, or even a bad man, to harm others, or to be a profound disappointment to himself. Better—not to mention braver—to tell Bernard about Opal, what he’d done and why, about her removal from the campus to a mental facility where her worsening condition could be treated and monitored, her college days over…He will tell Bernard all this, not because the story refutes his conviction that in the end human beings don’t amount to much, but rather because, as Nate has belatedly come to understand, life is, seemingly by design, a botched job (Trajectories, p. 131).

The remaining stories in the collection further substantiate this theme. For example, “Horseman,” has a professor as its main protagonist—a professor whose writing is well-crafted but which lacks originality and emotion, revealing little of its writer. Her marriage, centered on the special needs of her autistic son, has left her an observer in her own life.

The last two stories, “Intervention” and “Milton and Marcus”, share a quality of wry wit we associate with this author. In the former, the main character is a realtor trying to sell the home of a hoarder. “Milton and Marcus,” examines the theme of deception as an aging screenwriter tries to sell his script to the Hollywood moguls he thought he knew.

Russo has written a book with flawed, all-too-human characters grappling with the myriad ways life disappoints us.

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