True to this season of masochistic reading, I have decided it was time to finally get Richard Russo over with. I saw him several years ago reading excerpts from his then latest book, Empire Falls. He's a masterful reader, and had an entire auditorium in hysterics.
I have since bought the book at a much lower price, and it has been sitting on my stash shelf for several years. yesterday I took it down, resolved to finally see what all the shouting was about.
I got about a quarter of the way through before I realized that either he had failed to make me care about these people--or reading about Miles Roby and the assorted loons in Empire Falls was so well done, and the characters so finely and truly constructed, it was like reading about people I knew, grew up with, and was less than impressed with the lot of them. For me they are not the exotic species they might be to someone from, say, Duluth, or East Texas. In much the same way that the Beans of Egypt Maine weren't necessarily interesting, just sad and way too locally recognizable.
There is something about reading of the shenanigans of people so sharply familiar, that any humor there might actually be in all of it gets washed out by a faint embarrassment that you do indeed KNOW people like this, and they ain't funny a-tall. At least when you're standing that close to them. When you start picking apart the foibles of the neighbors, that's one thing. It's done with people who already know the outlines, you just fill in the details of what Susy Mae is up to THIS time...
I kept reading, and reading, looking for the funny bits, and then understood that if the funny bits were there, they were subtle, and it took Mr. Russo's masterful reading to bring them out.
I am also working my way through another Doris Lessing novel, "Summer Before the Dark" and it seems that Ms. Lessing is about to have her heroine overthink herself right into madness. It does seem that the heroines do that a lot in her books, just think things to death. Nothing comes easily for them, and if it seems to, they have to examine it under a microscope until the wings fall off. Classics, I keep telling myself. These are classics. Must Read Classics now and then. As a reward, I promise myself the next Robert Parker novel, or Sue Grafton, or the entire sweeep of Terry Pratchett, from one end of his series to the other.