THE WHORE'S CHILD: And Other Stories

Richard Russo, Author . Knopf $24 (240p) ISBN 978-0-375-41168-7

Russo's sterling reputation is largely due to his astounding ability to present the tangled emotions of troubled parent-child and marital relationships with comic verve, bracing clarity and dramatic tension fused with an undercurrent of pathos. These predicaments are well represented in the seven stories of his first collection, whose protagonists betray themselves and others in different social milieus. The brassy, flaky mother in "Joy Ride," who leaves her stodgy husband in Camden, Maine, and drives across the continent with her 12-year-old son in search of "freedom," may have much in common with the overbearing, intellectually pretentious mother in "The Mysteries of Linwood Hart," in which her 10-year-old son tries to fathom the implicit but inexplicable rules of adult behavior, but one woman is forced to admit defeat in the marital game, and the other is triumphant. In another case of parallel identities, the emotionally constricted college professor in "The Farther You Go" and the professor emeritus in "Buoyancy" must both acknowledge betrayal of their wives, not through deeds but as a result of their cold self-absorption. Ironically, the misogynistic Hollywood photographer in "Monhegan Light" learns a bitter lesson in Martha's Vineyard when he discovers his dead wife's decency in protecting him from knowledge of her longtime affair. The most memorable character here, however, is the title story's Sister Ursula, the daughter of a prostitute whose lifelong search for her absent father ends with a heartbreaking epiphany. Russo's rueful understanding of the twisted skein of human relationships is as sharp as ever, and the dialogue throughout is barbed, pointed and wryly humorous. The collection is a winner. Agents, Nat Sobel and Judith Weber. (July 16)

Forecast:Russo's recent Pulitzer for Empire Falls put the lie to the assumption that "literary" fiction can't be funny, heartwarming and commercial in the sense of popular sales. Powered by a 50,000 first printing, look for this book to ring up impressive sales.

Reviewed on: 05/20/2002
Release date: 07/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-09-943752-9
Open Ebook - 121 pages - 978-0-307-42962-9
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-375-72601-9
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-307-96743-5
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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