Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Risk Pool by Richard Russso

The Risk Pool by Richard Russo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm about halfway through The Risk Pool, but I thought I'd make a few comments about it now because a couple of other books have leap frogged it on my reading list.

This book was a choice for my book club. Unfortunately it was picked during the Christmas season, so a number of the members didn't have time to finish it. One woman didn't like it at all, but most of us felt it was well written, but not captivating. I was in that group. I liked the characters and the descriptions were exciting. But for me it read more like a collection of short stories than a novel. That isn't a bad thing. There are lots of good books out there that have a similar feel. The Greer Agency by Harris Tobias is a wonderful example of one I enjoyed. In the case of The Risk Pool I felt that each individual anecdote was fun to read but had a beginning, middle, and end. I loved the story of how Ned was kidnapped by his father, Sam, and taken on a fishing adventure, especially when his mother, Jenny, greeted them by shooting up Sam's car. And the relationship between Father Michaels and Jenny is fascinating in another story.

What the book lacks for me is a strong thread to pull me to the next anecdote. There are the relationships between Ned, his father, and his mother. And there is also Tria, a girl he's started to take an interest in. But at this point those factors aren't enough to keep me involved.

A number of different writers have told me that there are only a few basic plots that cover all stories. (The number of plots seems to change depending on who is telling me this fact.) I believe that's a dangerous way to think. It's the subtleties of plots that pull readers forward. The same thing could be said for relationships or anything else that makes up good writing. There are, after all, only twenty-six letters. So haven't all stories been told by now?

My wife tells me the plot of The Risk Pool gets more interesting after Ned grows up. That might be true and I do intend to finish this novel. I enjoy Richard Russo’s writing. But I’ve heard that Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs are both much better.

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