Friday, November 8, 2013

Elsewhere by Richard Russo

Richard Russo is the author of many popular novels about upstate New York and the failing economy of its small towns. But Elsewhere is a memoir in which he recounts his life with his mother, a rather difficult woman. Russo grew up in Gloversville, New York, a blue-collar town built around the glove making industry, including the tanning of hides to make leather gloves. Having divorced Richard’s father, Jean Russo was a single mother in the 1950’s, a time when such a life style was rare. During his childhood the presence of his grandparents and other relatives helped to blunt the effect his mother’s strange personality (black moods, fits of anger, ingratitude, anxiety and compulsions) had on him.

At the age of eighteen, Richard left New York to attend college in Arizona and his mother, seeking a new life, accompanied him. Unfortunately, she brought her problems with her. She did not find the new life to be a better life and the new surroundings did not improve her mental health. In Arizona he alone dealt with his mother’s crises and compulsions. A pattern was set. She would try a new job or new apartment. Something would go wrong, forcing her to quit or move. She would return to New York, then back to Arizona. Whenever things went wrong, she could not cope and expected her son to help her pick up the pieces of her life. Richard Russo is a successful man. He earned a PhD and became a college professor. He married an understanding woman and started a family. He became a very successful author whose books were made into movies. But his mother’s unreasonable needs were always in the background of his life. She moved wherever he moved. She had exacting requirements for job, apartment and home furnishings and could tolerate nothing less. She relied on him from his boyhood until her death when he was in his sixties. After her death, he realized that she had probably suffered from an actual mental illness, obsessive-compulsive disorder. Russo’s book expresses the frustration those living with difficult family members feel. His observations are not a guide on how to deal with a mentally ill relative but rather an explanation of the difficulties a family in such a situation faces.

Check out Elsewhere @ the library!