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The Risk Pool

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  4,004 ratings  ·  297 reviews
The Risk Pool is a thirty-year journey through the lives of Sam Hall, a small-town gambling hellraiser, and his watchful, introspective son Ned. When Ned's mother Jenny suffers a breakdown and retreats from her husband's carelessness into a dream world, Ned becomes part of his father's seedy nocturnal world, touring the town's bars and pool halls, struggling to win Sam's a...more
Paperback, 479 pages
Published June 4th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1988)
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Nov 23, 2012 Paul rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
1) This is like a very gentle version of the way the British sergeant-major explained how he lectures his troops :

"First I tells 'em what I'm going to tell 'em. Then I tells 'em. Then I tells 'em what I told 'em."

Because Richard Russo's middle name is Repetition. His full name is Richard Repetition Russo. Now I'm doing it. Must be catching. How many times were we told that the protagonist's father had a blackened thumb and forefinger? At least once every five pages. How many times did the father...more
i've decided richard russo is like u2 -- all his stuff sounds pretty much the same, but it's terrific, so i don't care.

the usual is all in evidence:
- lol-inducing humor
- affectionate brutal treatment of small-town folk and life (perfect internal echo: Sam constantly cuffing his son on the head to show how much he loves him)
- palpable rage against the socioeconomic forces and big business that slowly destroy his intimately beloved type of biosphere
- characters you feel you'd know at a 100 pace...more
It's true that for me a big part of this book's allure is how well I know these characters. I mean, really know them. But whether or not you relate to the characters from the start, by the end you will at least empathize with them. Russo draws each role so clearly with the requisite anecdotal background that brings them into focus. But his true talent is dialogue. Anyone who's spent time in back-woods, homegrown bars will have heard these conversations before - though perhaps not specifically or...more
Mike Gilbert
This is probably my favorite Russo book. Granted, I have only read three, but between Empire Falls, That Old Cape Magic, and The Risk Pool, this one really stands out.

I live in upstate New York, quite a bit further west than the Mohawk Valley, but its close enough put pictures of Leroy or Olean in my mind when the once flourishing now dilapidated town is described. And although my life was nothing like that of Ned Hall's, I easily identified with the people in his life and the fears that he nur...more
Russo always impresses me with his ability to skirt the "rules" of writing and get away with it. If any of you have been unfortunate enough to expereince a graduate level writing class you've - at some point - been brow-beaten with the two oldest writing saws: "Show don't tell" and "Write what you know." Russo never ever shows in any of his books, but the skewed perspective of the narrator is often part of the novel's depth as well as its charm. Perhaps he makes up for breaking the one rule so c...more
The more books I read by Richard Russo the more I associate him with a fine, expensive wine. With a wine such as that, you don’t gulp it all down at one time. You take your time and savor it. Such is my experience with The Risk Pool. I think the biggest fascination I have with Mr. Russo’s books is that they don’t really have an apparent storyline but more of a history of his character’s lives. This particular book was no different. His characters are deep messes. The same person you sniff at dur...more
I always feel like kind of sucker for enjoying Richard Russo novels as much as I do--he plays the "looking back on your life, wistfully" card to the hilt--but whatever: the guy can tell a long, mostly uneventful story about vaguely interesting men with the best of them, and in Risk Pool, his second novel, from 1988, he again had me totally engaged, chuckling out loud, getting a bit teary-eyed, all of it. Risk Pool takes place in fictional Mohawk, New York, a dreary post-industrial town full of b...more
Diem Le
Jun 24, 2014 Diem Le rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Diem by: Mary
This is the novel Goldfinch wishes it was.

Richard Rosso can turn a phrase like no other, and the section in which Ned lives with his father is perfection: funny, clever, witty, AND substance, over and over and over again. This kind of writing is a true talent that is rarely found. So enjoyable that I tried to read through the section slowly in order to make it last. I would have given this book five stars (and I do not inflate grades!!), except the other sections are just not q...more
Bette BookAddict
I love all things Russo and this novel is no exception. Interesting, a good longish book that kept me entertained and involved.

The story of a boy growing up and his relationship with his early absentee father and the sad life of his agoraphobic mother. As with most Russo novels, set in a NY state town which is dying, this is a struggling family, an only child set in 1950s/60s. Full of Russo's superb literary skills although not very much of his usual wry humor. Russo writes small town story ext...more
sure it's repetitive, with only a slender wisp of slow plot. but still. the atmosphere. the lovable drunks. the myopia. it's all so pleasing, catching all the ugly angles in a happy glow of "well, what now?" i've enjoyed better books less. there's very little i would change, granted the big red pen to do it. for me that's saying something.
Susan Emmet
Really love Richard Russo. Have followed him for a while. Decided to read The Risk Pool after reading anthology of short stories he edited, as well as Empire Falls a few years ago.
It's all character-driven and reminds me of Steinbeck. Not just the story of the Halls (loony mother, inebriated father, "lost" son Ned, the narrator), but also of Mohawk, NY, crumbling over time once the tanneries and mills and downtown shut down. After WW 2, Sam marries Jenny, Ned is born, and Sam takes off. The nove...more
As I drove through Gloversville, N.Y., about five years ago, I saw a brick house that was being demolished. It appeared to have suffered a fire. Perhaps because it was close to the houses on either side, it was being knocked down manually, without heavy equipment. In the time that I drove by, I saw that a group of sturdy men were smashing away with sledgehammers, and all that remained of the house, perfectly free standing, was the front facade. As I passed by the front of the house, it looked li...more
Apr 20, 2008 Becky rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Becky by: Mom
At first I just found this story interesting -- and wondered how I could like someone who is a jerk (the father, Sam). But by the end of the story, I realized how deep this book is on so many levels. (1) I thought the story was going to be about Ned and his mother (she raised him for the most part). But it wasn' was more about Ned and his father, and what a profound impact his father had on Ned's life, even though he wasn't around most of the time. (Don't let the fact that the book was wri...more
Jul 28, 2009 Nancy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2009
Dear Richard Russo,

I love character-driven stories, and you write some of the best I've ever read. Does anything much happen in your stories? Not usually, and what does happen tends toward the quotidian. But the way you portray these events, and their effects on your wonderful characters, makes me so pleased. Because don't we all have some little experiences, those ones that happen almost every day, that make us who we are?

Good work. I'm sadly almost done with your back catalog now, but I'm exci...more
Richard Russo is great. I've now read three of his novels and really enjoyed all of them. The characters stand out from the page, and I get lost so easily in the narrative. This book is a coming-of-age and beyond story about a boy/young man in an upstate New York town with two separated parents who are neglectful yet still loving in their own ways. Most interesting is watching how their relationships with their son shapes who he becomes. The focus is clearly on the father-son relationship, and t...more
Loved this book. Loved all of Russo's books and I loved this one too. Don't expect plot twists or surprises. That's not what you come looking for when you read Russo. What the man delivers are characters. Big ones. Big believable unpredictable characters who drive the novel forward by being themselves. To say nothing of Russo's writing which is so seamless and insightful, you almost forget you're reading. Russo never strays far from the settings and themes he feels most at home with - families,...more
Oct 09, 2011 Ella rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Ella by: Susan
Ik heb het boek gelezen in de Nederlandse vertaling. Het speelt in een kleine 'rundown'stad in Amerika.
Het wordt verteld door de zoon. Na zijn geboorte verlaat zijn vader het pand en na enkele jaren begint het getouwtrek van de ouders om aandacht van de zoon. Het speelt zich voornamelijk af in kroegen en gokhallen die worden bevolkt door de drinkmaten van zijn vader. Het wordt met veel humor en mensenkennis verteld en je krijgt sympathie voor alle 'losers' van die maatschappij.
Heb een ander boek...more
Scott Schneider
I was always puzzled about the title of this book. What is it about? It refers to his father's assignment to the auto insurance risk pool but is really a larger metaphor for all those characters in the book living on the edge, barely getting by and down on their luck in these upstate NY towns abandoned by closing plants. The characters are wonderful. Each chapter is like a separate short story. This book, as all of his books, is filled with human stories and events and emotion. I'm glad I finall...more
Steve Fouse
Russo never disappoints. This is a wonderful story that reminds us how children and parents are connected and the impact each has on the lives of the other. Russo explores particularly the relationships between fathers and sons, and also the degree to which a child is destined to be like his or her same-gender parent. The characters are well developed and the story is engaging. Also lots of profound symbolism. A great read!
This was a very good read. I'd read his "Empire Falls," and just been depressed by it. That story was about losers in a depressing place. This book takes place in at least as sad and dilapidated a town as Empire Falls, but the people have a better outlook that makes the book a pleasure to read. Still not any kind of uplifting, but good writing and a good story that doesn't make you want to jump off a bridge.
You can't go wrong with a Richard Russo book. But that being said, I didn't enjoy this one as much as others of his I've read. His trademark character development is here. You come to have affection for even a hopeless drunk who abandons his wife and child. You struggle alongside his son as he tries valiantly to forge a loving relationship with his father, and still avoid becoming his father. Even the peripheral characters are three-dimensional and sympathetic, despite their myriad flaws. But no...more
Joan Cobb
Again Richard Russo introduces us to a cast of characters in a dying, small upstate town in New York State. You get to know each so well that reading this novel is sort of like sitting down at the local bar and catching up with everyone. It is full of bitter sweet moments. People you want to shake and those you want to hug. That Ned grows up to be as balanced as he does is a credit to himself. The novel makes us question being doomed to be just like our parents, or are there choices. The writing...more
Steve Lindahl
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 f...more
Thinking of what to say about this book and realizing it's going to sound like I didn't like it. That is farthest from the truth. It's just that Russo is one of those writers that amaze me so much that I expect so much more from him than most writers will ever be capable of. So, while I had a few issues with the format of the story, still, a mediocre Russo book is better then almost anything out there. The way he tells a story, the characters he fills his pages with and the emotions he evokes ar...more
On the back of the book- the Boston Globe describes The Risk Pool as Weighted with wonderful detail. That's a perfect way to describe this novel. There's so much detail that it almost- but not quite- feels like a slog at times. The town- setting- and many of the characters are identical to those in his first novel Mohawk. I read Mohawk just before The Risk Pool- and found the similarities a little disconcerting because at first it felt like a was reading a continuation of Mohawk- just shifted ba...more
Richard Russo has such an unmistakable style and voice – if you like any of his books you’ll like all of them. His material does tend to be a bit repetitive (although yes, I realize, this one was his 2nd, although the 4th I’ve read…) as he focuses on self-destructive, alcoholic father figures, deteriorating towns, troubled youths, asshole cops, barflys, and mythical town figures whose fate is always somehow tied to the river in town; but despite all this, even if you’re familiar with him, each b...more
I think at this point, I need to take a serious break from Russo for a while. I still like his stuff (although the pagination on this one was annoying; my kindle had it pegged at 464 pages, but it turns out that didn't include the epilogue which was another 20ish pages), the tone, style and commentary are all up to snuff, but I am starting to get bogged down with the similarities. All of these novels essentially happen in the same town (Mohawk again for this one, but it is not significantly diff...more
Eind jaren vijftig, begin jaren zestig. Ned Hall woont samen met zijn moeder Jenny in het Amerikaanse stadje Mohawk. Sinds zijn terugkeer uit de oorlog in Europa neemt vader Sam het niet zo nauw met zijn verantwoordelijkheid als vader en echtgenoot. Hij wil maar één ding en dat is de bloemetjes buitenzetten. Jenny wil van hem scheiden, maar Sam piekert er niet over om zijn huwelijk officieel op te geven. In de bittere strijd die daarop volgt komt Ned voor een bitter loyaliteitsconflict te staan....more
I adore Russo and agree a little with another reviewer comparing him to U2 in that all his stuff pretty much sounds the same but it doesn't matter because it's all terrific. Except I wouldn't use U2 and I've read enough of Russo now to say that a few of his novels do differ plenty in plot and tone and mood. But The Risk Pool and Mohawk, which I read just before, are about the same town and even some of the same characters, and I've seen Nobody's Fool (also takes place in Mohawk) and might even i...more
Brian Steinbach
Jan 07, 2013 Brian Steinbach rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Russo fans
Recommended to Brian by: Simone
Calling small children "birdbrain", struggling academics, dysfunctional father/multi-generational searches for understanding, gruff or "dangerous" role model/ childhood friendships dealt through adolescence, and stagnate or dying smalltown America-- These are all reoccurring items in Russo's work. This (his second novel), depicts the four part growth of the protagonist from adolescence through adulthood and the death of his father.

The Risk Pool isn't my favorite of Russo's novels, but is impres...more
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Richard Russo (born July 15, 1949) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist. Born in Johnstown, New York, and raised in nearby Gloversville, he earned a B.A. (1967), a M.F.A. (1980), and a Ph.D. (1979) from the University of Arizona.

More about Richard Russo...
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“My mother had more than once remarked that my father was one of the war's casualties, that the Sam Hall who came back wasn't the one who left, the one she'd fallen in love with. I didn't doubt that she believed this certain truth, or even that it was true, after a fashion. But it was a nice way of ignoring another simple truth--that people changed, with or without wars, and that we sometimes don't know people as well as we think we do, that the worst errors in judgment often result from imagining we understand what has escaped us entirely.” 3 likes
“To weigh and evaluate a vast grid of information, much of it meaningless, and to arrive at sensible, if erroneous, conclusions, is a skill not to be sneezed at.” 3 likes
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