Synopses & Reviews
A wonderfully fun and perceptive novel in the traditions of Thornton Wilder and Anne Tyler, The Risk Pool
is set in Mohawk, New York, where Ned Hall is doing his best to grow up, even though neither of his estranged parents can properly be called adult.
His father, Sam, cultivates bad habits so assiduously that he is stuck at the bottom of his auto insurance risk pool. His mother, Jenny, is slowly going crazy from resentment at a husband who refuses either to stay or to stay away. As Ned veers between allegiances to these grossly inadequate role models, Richard Russo gives us a book that overflows with outsized characters and outlandish predicaments and whose vision of family is at once irreverent and unexpectedly moving.
"Those who finish The Risk Pool will fully earn any pleasures Richard Russo may have to offer....Russo is not an author to worry about inflicting longueurs on his readers, and in Ned Hall he has found an ideal protagonist for the relentless amplitude of his way with a story....Ned Hall is not unlike the Archer of Ross Macdonald's great series of American thrillers. Both Ned and Archer haunt their worlds like anthropologists...but Archer's world has secrets to award to the stalker of lives; Ned's has not....The risk pool a term which describes the kind of insurance shelter available to high-risk drivers like Sam, at swingeing cost keeps its secrets and its derelicts covered." John Clute, The Times Literary Supplement
"Russo illuminates a narrow world with the skill of a Dutch genre painter....This family story is played out, over a 30-year period, against a vivid background of Mohawk's scandals, scams and class resentments. In the gruff scenes between father and son, Russo risks sentimental overkill and narrowly avoids it. The result is very touching." Walter Clemons, Newsweek
"Richard Russo, a talented newcomer, has added to the map a blue-collar town in upstate New York called Mohawk, a place sufficiently gray and blighted to serve as the setting both of his acclaimed first novel, Mohawk (1986), and now another as well. Even more than in Mohawk, with its busier plot and leaner texture, Mr. Russo proves himself a master at evoking the sights, feelings and especially smells of a town in a tailspin. What is most striking about Mr. Russo's work is his resolute refusal to plug into the American nostalgia circuit....This is a superbly original, maliciously funny book, peopled by characters that most of us would back away from plenty fast if they ever lurched toward our barstool. It is Mr. Russo's brilliant, deadpan writing that gives their wasted lives and miserable little town such haunting power and insidious charm." Jack Sullivan, The New York Times Book Review
"A story of not-so-successful folk in a decaying town in New York as seen through the eyes of Ned Hall, better known as 'Sam's son.' Sam was once an average citizen who grew up, married, and went off to fight in World War II but returned a drifter. Leaving his wife and small son at home, he would haunt the bars and pool halls and hobnob with his cronies. Now and then he'd appear from nowhere to take Ned with him. When Ned's mother, Jenny, trips over the edge, Ned goes to live with Sam in a dilapidated loft above the town's one department store and shares his father's roguish life. Ned's 20-year story is filled with wonderfully drawn characters and hilarious adventures but the subtext is one of sadness and near desperation. Highly recommended." Marion Hanscom, Library Journal
About the Author
Richard Russo grew up in Gloversville, New York, the small, mostly working-class town that has served as the prototype for his fictional Mohawk and North Bath. His parents were separated, and he recalls his father as a man who "lived a life of studied bad habits. I became of interest to him when I got old enough to follow him into the OTB and then into the bar and then into the pool hall, when I could be taken to the places he went and not interrupt the rhythm of his life."
With his father, Russo worked construction jobs during his vacations from the University of Arizona, where he received his B.A. He later went on to get a master's degree and had almost earned his Ph.D. in American literature when it occurred to him that he would rather write his own novels than analyze other people's. He is the author of three books, Mohawk, The Risk Pool, and Nobody's Fool, which has recently been made into a feature film starring Paul Newman and Bruce Willis. Richard Russo teaches writing at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He lives there with his wife, Barbara, and their two daughters.