Every day, the "in-box" of my emails delivers a link to the Wall Street Journal. There, I can select from several pre-selected op/ed pieces, sometimes a news story or two - and occasionally book reviews or style stories.
I think when we are young, we have a gauzy view of life. We can dream it to play out with happy tales of marvelous friends, activities, successes... and dark stories of pain, failure, loss and fear are not part of the picture. Yet, the older we become, the more we realize that these latter items visit everyone's life. Some have far more of the former and far less of the darkness. No one, however, enjoys the fairy tales of which we all dream.
Russo's story is one of a lower middle class upbringing - and a mother with mental illness. How he faces his life with dignity, caring and acceptance is a lesson for us all.
Mr. Russo preferred girls to studying, until he went off to the University of Arizona at Tucson in 1967, a campus "larger and more populous than my hometown." In Tucson, he "would become a man, a husband, a scholar, a father and a writer." This is remarkable given that he carried with him to Arizona freight far more hobbling than his blue-collar background; his mother literally went with him to
college, quitting her job and heading west on a wisp of a GE prospect that never materialized.
Jean suffered from a condition that was then called "nerves" but is now better understood—and treatable. The author doesn't name the diagnosis until late in his memoir, but as a boy he worried that his mother would suffer something called a "nervous breakdown." As an only child charged with her emotional management, Mr. Russo rarely questioned his filial indenture.
Mr. Russo doesn't spare us the logistics and rituals that consumed her life (and his). It was his job to ferry her to doctors' appointments and grocery stores, to order for her in diners and to manage her repeated, random moves from one apartment to the next, as she sought the elusive "elsewhere." She was friendless, and covered her books in plastic to minimize contamination.
The greatest charm of this memoir lies in the absence of self-pity and pretension in the author's take on his own history. Now that he is sitting atop a fruitful career and solid family life, Mr. Russo's dominant emotions seem to be gratitude and relief. He reports that, unlike "far too many writers," he has made "an excellent living" churning out books and screenplays. The level of responsibility he took on at an early age—because nobody else could do it for him—is the underpinning of his work ethic and success.