Richard Russo's Compassion

I'm reading Everybody's Fool, my fourth Russo novel. He specializes in telling the stories of everyday folks in a small town in New England. The sort of town you drive by and wonder who lives there and then forget all about it 10 minutes later. A town whose better days are well behind it, whose capable citizens have all moved out a long time ago. So, who lives there?

The eclectic bunch that Russo presents us are street smart, plain dumb, woefully lazy, super industrious, morally upright and downright despicable. We laugh at them, and then we laugh with them. We see them cry and share their pain. Families are broken, but they still try to carry on. Sons try to be better than their fathers, and they're perennially wondering what their sons will think of them. Men are tired of not moving up the economic ladder, women are tired of never being understood, kids do stupid shit and old men get on a barstool and tell the same old jokes. These people are miserable and lovely. In the hands of a lesser writer I would have hated these characters. But Russo tells the stories of these people poignantly. We see a little bit of ourselves in these creatures. It's hard to love them, just like it's hard to be kind to ourselves at times. But Russo's compassion makes it possible.

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