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3.76  ·  Rating details ·  7,376 ratings  ·  1,022 reviews
After eight commanding works of fiction, the Pulitzer Prize winner now turns to memoir in a hilarious, moving, and always surprising account of his life, his parents, and the upstate New York town they all struggled variously to escape.

Anyone familiar with Richard Russo's acclaimed novels will recognize Gloversville once famous for producing that eponymous product and anyt
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 30th 2012 by Knopf
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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 ·  7,376 ratings  ·  1,022 reviews

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Angela M
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
This memoir is a must read for fans of Richard Russo. I have read all of his novels and his two story collections and I’m always moved by his keen observations of the human condition and his brilliant writing. Born and raised in Gloversville, NY, a small town in upstate NY, Russo tells of his early life there and gradually how that place and his family history shaped him as a writer, became the seed, the inspiration for all of the small towns that he writes about. In the beginning, he says that ...more
Jan 11, 2017 rated it liked it
[Reminder to self: KISS – Keep It Short, Steve.]

Richard Russo is a great writer. His stories are fast-moving, his characters are recognizable, and his words entice without adornments. In fact, I like him so much I read this to become a completist. You might imagine that a memoir by a writer of his caliber would be a crowning achievement, and you’d be right for parts. But he chose a fairly narrow focus that in my mind weakened the whole. While I don’t doubt that his main subject – mother Jean – w
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
This book is more "mom"-oir than memoir. You won't learn much about Rick Russo except as it relates to his mother's inescapable grip on him. Jean Russo was one doozy of a dippy demanding dame. She taught Rick to think of himself and his mother as essentially one person -- "You and me against the world." Even as an adult, he couldn't break free of her hold on him. For over 35 years he catered to her ridiculous demands, which cost him a fortune financially and mentally.

Ever since Rick was a boy,
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
I listened to Richard Russo read his memoir Elsewhere. What a treat! This very personal portrait of his relationship with his troubled mother seemed to much more personal as told in his own voice. Rather than start by telling us that his mother had a mental illness, and that he had a hard go of it living with her, his story unfolds in real time as he describes the experience of living with his mother from his childhood through to his middle age years. (There is a particularly harrowing descripti ...more
Margaret Sankey
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
As with Isabelle Allende's memoirs, I was interested to see how much of real life Richard Russo used for his novels like Empire Falls and Nobody's Fool, especially since the most outrageous things generally turn out to be the true ones. In this case, Russo is heart-breakingly open about his early life in a dying upstate New York mill town, his ne'er do well gambler father, his devoted mother who is...too devoted and eventually diagnosed with OCD and crippling anxiety, his incredibly tolerant wif ...more
Dec 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
And so my major crush on Richard Russo continues. I'm not exactly sure why I like this guy's books so much. He's not a flashy writer, nor particularly chewy, and his novels, usually set in depressed rust-belt towns in upstate New York, don't exactly come at you with big new ideas about the human condition. And yet I've loved them all, for their heart, their generosity of spirit, and his talent for bringing people to life, whether in a few sentences or over the course of hundreds of pages. He als ...more
Within these narratives, Russo provides clues as to which novel he was working on at each point of his life. He and his mother loved books, and the books moved when they moved. "It was from my mother that I learned reading is not a duty but a reward." She was his inspiration to become a writer, so gotta love her for that.

Narrated by the author, whose voice is edgy but very pleasant, I can't find any fault in it whatsoever. He seems like the kind of guy you could go have a beer and burger with, a
Jul 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
'Nobody's Fool' written by Richard Russo is on the list of my favorite books and although I was aware that he based the towns and characters in his novels on his real-life hometown of Gloversville in upstate New York, I WAS curious about just what this memoir, 'Elsewhere' would add to what I already know. To my surprise, 'Elsewhere' didn't turn out to be a memoir after all.. at least, not in the traditional sense, not in the way I am used to. Instead, this book was about Richard Russo's mother, ...more
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
So here's a memoir focused on a man's relationship with his mentally ill mother. You'd think it would be sad, depressing, frustrating. Not so. It's all about survival and resilience. True, some things don't get better: the author's hometown of Gloversville, NY, went downhill after the glove factories closed, much like my neighboring hometown of Amsterdam, NY, when the carpet mills moved out. Russo writes about the pollution and the disregard for workers' health, and the common identity and pride ...more
Nov 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Do not waste your time reading this book.

I read it like the dutiful son Russo, the author, is: because it is his mother who constantly asks him to take her places ("my son will do that", she always insists at the sight of assisted-living and nursing home shuttle buses), he does it. Because the author is someone who is nice, I thought, I should finish reading this book.

But I didn't want to. It bugged me. Why would I want to read about a nagging old woman who insists on following her son across t
Jan 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
I was disappointed with Richard Russo’s memoir Elsewhere but I had difficulty articulating precisely why until I read Jane McDonnell’s Living to Tell the Tale. I’ll quote the introductory paragraph to her book in its entirety because it is inspirational:

Writing is a second chance at life. Although we can never go back in time to change the past, we can re-experience, interpret and make peace with our past lives. When we write a personal narrative we find new meanings and, at the same time, we di
Nov 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012, memoir
I’ve been a fan of Richard Russo since the late 80s/early 90s, back when I was a teen and read The Risk Pool. I love his hardscrapple blue color characters and in reading this memoir it’s clear where much of his literary inspiration comes from.

This is mostly about his mother. She’s strong yet incredibly, frustratingly, annoyingly flawed. She had (undiagnosed) OCD but this is not really evident until the very end of the book after she’s already dead (no spoiler here, Russo’s an old guy himself) a
I've enjoyed Richard Russo's novels, some more than others, but reading his memoir didn't really anything new, anything I hadn't expected. I think some writers follow the adage to write about that which they know, and I think it might have been Richard Russo who gave that advice (only he's not nearly old enough). He's the kind of person I could see - providing you had more than a book buying relationship with - calling him up and saying "we're going to be in the area" and being invited to come o ...more
Grandma Weaver
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Richard Russo is one of my avorite authors. I've read all of his books and loved all of them. This book is no exception. He calls it a memoir but it's mostly a book about his mother, who was to put it mildly, a handful. She was never happy with any situation she was in. It's also about Gloversville NY where he grew up. It was a factory town tanning leather and making gloves and other leather products. And not the garden spot of New York state. It was a hard and dangerous work with more of the to ...more
Jan 23, 2021 rated it liked it
I tend to think Russo is an exceptional writer because of his character development (Empire Falls and Nobody's Fool are two of my favorite books).

Unfortunately when writing memoirs one doesn't have that same liberty with the subject matter. And since this memoir is almost exclusively about Russo's mother, to be honest I felt a little trapped. There just weren't many happy moments in her life. Maybe her arc is similar to the millions of divorced women in the 1950's. Trying to pursue a career in a
John Woltjer
Nov 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was a good read. I have read "Straight Man" which was one of the few books I've ever read that made me laugh out loud. This memoir is a touching book about his very complicated relationship with his mother, who was rarely far from him geographically and never far away emotionally. There are huge gaps of time in this narrative, though there is a numbingly predictable dynamic to their relationship that would have made making the book more detailed, well, very numbing. The powerful revelation ...more
Jun 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
I think that whenever I become concerned about my parenting skills, I should remember this book. Richard Russo writes movingly, and often hilariously, about Gloversville, New York, the small upstate town where he was raised, his parents, and the incredible bond that existed between Russo and his mother. Noting that "a mother gives us breath, but she can also suck away the oxygen", Russo traces the path that his life followed since leaving Gloversville when he was 18 years old. And his mother was ...more
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I almost didn't read this book. In fact, I got it out of the library and had to return it unread because I ran out of time. However, I got it out again and read it in a short time, and I'm glad I did. Russo has always been one of my favorite writers. His prose is wonderful. I love his subject matter - especially his books that are based on his hometown in upstate New York. This one is incredibly heart-wrenching. Russo comes from a small town called Gloverville, a place that was once well known f ...more
Nov 22, 2012 rated it did not like it
Ugh. What do you say about a book where on page 165 the narrator finally comes to the same conclusion that the reader has on page 20: "The biggest difference between my mother and me, I now saw clearly, had less to do with nature or nuture than with blind dumb luck" ?

I'm clearly missing whatever gene allows people to accept chatter about real estate as interesting and unfortunately it is the organizing principle here. But even so, Russo seems insensible to the advantages that "blind dumb luck"
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Disclosure: I grew up in the city of Gloversville in upstate New York where Richard Russo–-six years my junior–-was born and raised and which plays a major role in this family memoir.

A number of my Gloversville friends who read Elsewhere expressed disappointment and even anger over Richard Russo’s treatment of the city of their youth in Elsewhere, his family memoir. Reflecting on the Prologue, which is a shorter version of a piece published by Granta, the British literary magazine in 2010, they
Oct 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-star-rated
I really liked this book -- many reviewers did not like it because it dealt too much with his mother and felt he (Russo) catered too much to her throughout her life. The book was a memoir and his mother was a constant in his life since she was a single mom and had what would today be diagnosed as OCD, among other emotional disabilities.

I felt he (and his wife) were saints in his mother's life. They protected her and cared for her and never abandoned her. I somehow got the impression from readin
Nov 11, 2012 rated it liked it
When we love our authors, we want every book they write to be a winner (see my review of Mark Helprin's latest as a case in point...). I was very interested in reading Richard Russo's latest -- a memoir -- because I thought Empire Falls, Nobody's Fool and Straight Man (three of his) were terrific. Perhaps I'm not a memoir fan, but I was disappointed in this one. I did not think it was up to his fiction standard of quality. First, as I've written in other reviews, this book needed an editor with ...more
Nov 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
My only regret about reading this book is that I didn't dive in sooner. I had read only one other Russo book and found it depressing. I imagined a memoir focused on his mother's death would be über depressing. But I couldn't escape review after review praising it. So I gave in and got it on tape. Read by Russo, this book is anything but depressing. It's sad sometimes, sure, and occasionally it's frustrating, but mostly, it's engaging. Russo pities his mother and the residents of his down-and-out ...more
American novelist Richard Russo’s first work of nonfiction is a perceptive psychological reflection on his relationship with his mother. As a single mother in the 1950s, Jean Russo proudly fought to maintain the appearance of independence, when in fact she was utterly reliant on others. With only a modest income and no driver’s license, she depended on cheap lodging with her parents and lifts from relatives, and her tendency for nervous attacks made even everyday tasks a struggle. All along she ...more
Dec 16, 2012 rated it liked it
I rated this book 3 stars as an average of the writing (4 stars) and the content (2 stars).

I read and agree with many many of the comments on this page. The work reflects Russo's wonderful writing style which I've enjoyed in so many of his books. But 35 years of a difficult mother weighed me down. Maybe it was cathartic for the writer, but it's hard on the reader. The book did succeed with making me very grateful that mental illness doesn't run in my family, and that I have siblings to help shar
Sep 03, 2013 rated it did not like it
I really did not like this book at all. I thought I would love it - seeing that is a memoir of my favorite author. But Russo tells us very little about himself. Rather, the entire memoir is about his mother. Forgive me, but I really have no interest in reading about this woman's insecurities and co-dependence on every page. I wanted to know more about the man who wrote Straight Man and who crafted the brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning novel Empire Falls. But all you get on every page, is a lot of ...more
Oct 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
This memoir of Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize winning author
of Empire Falls and eight other books, is a bittersweet account of his life growing up in upstate New York , in a town supported and then devastated by the shut down of its leather glove making industry. Perfectly titled Elsewhere, it is the story of the seemingly overwhelming life long bond between he and his eccentric single mother who spends most of her anxiety ridden life trying to both escape from and then return to, their small hom
Nov 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
Billed as a memoir, this volume felt more like a 'study' ... of R. Russo's mother, an extremely difficult but strong personality who held pride of place in his life, apparently relegating his wife and children somewhat to the background. I was very much hoping it would be a memoir reflecting on growing up in an upstate new year small town, much like the settings of his excellent novels, so was disappointed. I give the author all credit for spending the majority of his life beholden to this OCD p ...more
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is Richard Russo's memoir of growing up in a fading town in upstate New York with his unstable mother. Russo is bright and ambitious, but he also knows there is something "off" with his mother who suffers from what the family calls "nerves" and his mostly absent father terms as just being plain crazy. After she loses her job at General Electric, she decides to follow him to Arizona where he is going to college. Russo then accepts the role he will fill for the next forty years - taking care ...more
A Boomer's generational angst

Like his novels, Richard Russo's memoir Elsewhere reads a lot like a Boomer's confused, angry dirge for an American life that that is no more. A life that really only existed, if it existed at all, for a brief shining moment wedged between the Great Depression, World War II, and the true onset of the post-war era and the economic shifts it brought.

From the first page, this memoir is filled with Russo's glum reminiscing for a prosperous, charming small-town middle-Am
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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.

Articles featuring this book

In his first memoir, Elsewhere, the novelist writes about how his vivacious but volatile mother and his small hometown of Gloversville have shaped...
26 likes · 17 comments
“Novel writing is mostly triage (this now, that later) and obstinacy. Trying something, and when that doesn't work, trying something else. Welcoming clutter Surrendering a good idea for a better one. Knowing you won't find the finish line for a year or two, or five...” 3 likes
“she couldn’t quite see herself in it. When they were done, I read the Shakespeare sonnet that begins “Fear no more the heat o’ the Sun,” partly because it was appropriate to the occasion and one of the most beautiful poems in the language, but also because I hoped it might hide from my loved ones the fact that I myself had nothing to say, that while part of me was here with them on this beloved shore, another part was wandering, as it had been for months, in a barren, uninhabited landscape not unlike the one in my dream. I realized I’d felt like this for a while. Though life had gone on since my mother’s death—Kate had gotten married, I’d finally published another book and gone on tour with it—some sort of internal-pause button had been pushed, allowing another part of me, one I’d specifically kept sequestered to deal with my mother, to fall silent. Since her death, Barbara and I had gone through all her things and settled her affairs, but we’d barely spoken of her.” 1 likes
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