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The Risk Pool

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  5,478 Ratings  ·  392 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 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All the other Russo books I've read have been written from the perspective of an adult male, and usually heavily influenced by their mothers, set in some downtrodden small town in Upstate New York.  In "The Risk Pool", Ned is a boy when he begins his narration, living with his mother, while his unreliable father Sam is more or less out of the picture. When he is in the picture, it's an ugly one, so Ned knows he should avoid  the guy at all costs, despite his innate curiosity about him.  Then his ...more
Jan 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Paul Bryant
Jun 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Tom Brennan
A brilliant novel, the impact of which is only fully appreciated in the finishing of it. Part coming of age story, part meditation on familial ties and similarities between parents and children, and part documentary about the decay of a small New York town, Russo weaves these disparate threads into a unique tapestry showing the lives of quiet desperation lived by the inhabitants of Mohawk, NY. Ned Hall opens the novel by relating the tale of his parents' courtship and quick marriage just prior t ...more
Mar 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Mike Gilbert
Oct 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
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
Apr 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Diem Le
Jun 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
B the BookAddict
Nov 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
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
Nov 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely haunting, addictive and baffling. I will now describe why, but wonder if it has the same effect on people who don't share my experiences in just such a book's setting.

What Russo has encapsulated here is the wordless sense of security and unconscious insularity, which is, miraculously, all at once combined with wordly understanding and maturity in some post-industrial underclass of upstate New York.

You are waltzed into a thriving empty tenement and cemented in place, because here in th
It took a long time to finish this book. The literature is good, the book moves pretty fast, the characters are all well etched and lovable, but I still took almost a month to finish this book. May be it is because I didn't want to finish it, leave the town of Mohawk, Ned's side as he eats his sandwich at The Elms, or wanted some more of Wussy talking to Sam's kid. Or may be because I wasn't ready to let go of Sam Hall himself, yet.

What a beautiful book this is, and I realized it only as I wipe
Sep 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Chris Gager
I took this with me to Mr. Russo's talk at the Bath Library last night. The talk was fun and interesting and I got his signature on the title page. Cool!
Bill Krieger
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book! This review is a futile gesture. So, I'll lean on the default strategy of the writing-impaired: crappy stream of consciousness. (ha!)


“Trouble with you is,” my father told her, “you think you got the pussy market cornered.”
- Risk Pool, Richard Russo

Richard Russo's writing style is Goldilock's porridge... just right. The small, everyday things that happen are interesting. The huge, crazy plot twists are believable. The writing is smart. It's funny. Russo's writing style is a
Mar 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Susan Emmet
Apr 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Christine Bonheure
Goed, maar te lang uitgesponnen en te gedetailleerd. Bepaalde passages vond ik vrij saai. Maar ja, ik lees gekochte boeken nu eenmaal altijd uit. Het gebeurt zelden dat ik een boek onuitgelezen weg leg, of het moet al heel slecht zijn. Bij het lezen schoot me dikwijls de uitdrukking van mijn neef door het hoofd: "De helaasheid der familiebanden" (mooi gevonden, vind ik). Met je familie moet je het inderdaad doen. En hoewel je je soms van je familie afwendt, de gelijkenissen en de invloed blijven ...more
Jul 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Nick Duretta
Jul 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Russo writing about small-town life in the U.S. northeast is about as good as it gets. His Mohawk novels are neither cloyingly sentimental or bitterly cynical. His characters are rarely perfect yet are seldom lost causes; even the most unlikeable are rendered through a prism of human dignity. This novel accounts the lifelong relationship between Ned Hall and his ne'er-do-well father, Sam, who deserted Ned and his mother shortly after Ned's birth but has sustained an on-and-off connection with hi ...more
Sep 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Scott Schneider
Jun 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What an absolutely beautifully written book. The story is so well written that the reader is taken inside, becomes almost part of the story.

I really felt empathy for the narrator, whose story this is. He's just a shy, uncertain kid trying to make his way through life virtually alone. He has an absent father and what turns out to be a crazy mother. Along the way, Ned, the narrator, makes some pretty big mistakes, but in the end, he figures out life and his parents- in spite of their best efforts.
Lauren Albert
May 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
At first I found the book just amusing--it can be quite funny. But it grew to be more and by the end, I found myself quite affected by the characters, their messy lives and their usually unspoken (or even denied) affection for each other. I can't help thinking that Russo intended an echo of "gene pool" with the title since so many times in the book the subject of "inheritance" of character comes up.
Steve Fouse
Dec 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
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!
Dec 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
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Anything in the world like this book? 1 16 Sep 22, 2013 10:04AM  
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RICHARD RUSSO is the author of seven previous novels; two collections of stories; and Elsewhere, a memoir. In 2002 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, which like Nobody’s Fool was adapted to film, in a multiple-award-winning HBO miniseries.
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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.” 5 likes
“And so began my final stage of my boyhood in Mohawk. Later, as an adult, I would return from time to time. As a visitor, though, never again as a true resident. But then I wouldn't be a true resident of any other place either, joining instead the great multitude of wandering Americans, so many of whom have a Mohawk in their past, the memory of which propels us we know not precisely where, so long as it's away. Return we do, but only to gain momentum for our next outward arc, each further than the last, until there is no elasticity left, nothing to draw us home.” 4 likes
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