I have always been a big Richard Russo fan. He is masterful at developing quirky, yet likeable characters in well described settings and his books are always funny. As I recently finished, “Elsewhere”, a memoir about his mother, I realized that he has replaced John Irving as my favorite author. That is no small feat. For years, I have had a literary crush on Irving, but I could not finish his most recent book, “In One Person” and as I searched my heart it became clear to me that Russo has become my number one author. His books are shorter, funnier and just more entertaining.
This book is all about Richard and his mother, Jean, who is a complicated person. Jean raised Richard as a single mother in an “independent” way. This was important to Jean because money was short and his father wasn’t in his life. She was very proud of her independence.
To me, Russo is at his best when he is funny and the scenes that were especially funny occur when he is a young boy living with a mother who wants to be independent but who does not drive. On the weekends, they would head to the beach and she would need to get them a ride from her sister and her brother in law. But it wasn’t good enough that they just go to the beach, they needed to go to a SPECIFIC beach, aka HER favorite beach. At one point in the book his grandfather says about Jean, “you always have a choice with her, you can do it HER way, or wish you had!”
After he graduates, he is accepted at college in Phoenix and Jean announces that she is moving with him. The scenes where he describes their drive to Phoenix are some of the funniest in the book. Once she gets there they set up her apartment and she basically lives in very close proximity to him for the rest of her life. More hysterically funny scenes ensue as he describes these very difficult physical moves with his “independent” mother as she makes demands about the type of apartment she needs and just how far away from him she can live.
As she grows older he begins to understand that she has mental illness issues. He deals with them as a truly loving and devoted son. The end of the book is more painful and he is critical of the way he handled what he believes now was her OCD, especially as he sees himself to be her principal enabler.
However, even considering this, I loved this book. It is a book that has stayed with me for a while. One thing I especially remember is that after some of their talks, Jean would go home and gives herself “a good talking to” and come back a little more sane. As a mother who can at times be seen as a little “high maintenance”, I could see a little bit of myself in Jean. Now I know I just need to give myself a good talking to every now and again. Oh, and promise not to move myself along to college.