So this is my fourth (fifth?) Russo novel and I was not impressed (yes, I realize that it is award winning). Maybe I just expected too much, but I did not find the characters or the setting to be nearly as believable as Empire Falls or Bridge of Sighs. The book was entertaining (after all I did give it a 4 star rating), but it wasn't as good as I was hoping.
My biggest complaint is the repetition in this book. It is divided into three sections and feels as if Russo wrote each independently in hopes of publishing them as short stories or novellas. Each one repeats the basic facts of Sully's knee injury (and his ineffectual court appearances), his relationship with Peter and Vera, Ruth once made him visit Big Jim in the nursing home, Miss Beryl recognizes everyone asa grown up version of their 8th grade selves, and descriptions of the basic sets (the Horse, Sully's flat, Upper Main, and Hattie's) and characters (why are we re-introduced to Wirf, Carl Roebuck, Otis, and Jocko at Hattie's funeral?). In addition, Russo repeatedly illustrates individual men's fear of women (both their own and others) . I think the final straw for me was the third time I had to read the phrase "wouldn't have said shit if he had a mouthful" to describe Wirf.
I also found the writing to be a bit heavy handed. Besides repeating things frequently, Russo was very expository in his description. When he sets up the town in the first part he includes a lengthy history of the two lane road that existed prior to the Interstate and includes the discussion of the roadside fights and accidents. This wouldn't have been so egregious if so many of the characters themselves had already been part of these accidents (Clive Sr., Sully's brother Patrick, and Clive Jr. in the end).
My last complaint was that Sully went around introducing Peter to everyone. Yes, I get that Sully was not an involved father and that Vera managed to keep him away from Peter for most of the time. But, Bath is a small town. So small that people hear about the gun shots on Main St. before the cops even arrive to see what is going on. So how is it that no one has ever met Peter and he doesn't know his way around? Certainly he has not hung out with Sully before, but he knows the town; he knows which house was his grandparent's; he knows the people at the diner. He is not new to the town.
There were a few great quotes though (as to be expected):
"Where was the middle ground between a sense of adventure and just plain sense? Now there was a human question."
"Somehow old people, once the revered repositories of the culture's history and values, had become dusty museums of arcane and worthless information."
"Who but Carl Roebuck, the little twerp, wouldn't be satisfied with such a woman, Sully wondered as he limped up the driveway of the Roebuck house. Well, most men wouldn't be, he had to admit, because most men were never satisfied."
"These girls knew fro experience that their clientele were enthusiastically committed to the buffet concept in direct proportion to their physical inability to negotiate it."
"Which fit in with one of his theories about life, that you missed what you didn't have far more than you appreciated what you did have. It was for this reason he'd always felt that owning things was overrated. All you were doing was alleviating the disappointment of not owning them."
"For fairness and loyalty, however important to the head, were issues that could seldom be squared in the human heart, at the deepest depths of which lay the mystery of affection, of love, which you either felt or you didn't, pure as instinct, which seized you, not the other way around, making a mockery of words like 'should' and 'ought'. The human heart, where compromise could not be struck, not ever. Where transgression exacted a terrible price. Where tangled black limbs fell. Where the boom got lowered."
Overall, certainly worth the time. As always Russo is funny and engaging and manages to convey a lot about complex human emotions with his ironic tone.