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The Risk Pool Paperback – April 12, 1994 by Richard Russo (Author)

Set in Mohawk, New York, The Risk Pool follows Ned Hall through various stages of his life. The Risk Pool is a coming of age novel but it is also the story of Mohawk (a story that began in Russo’s first novel, appropriately titled Mohawk). Only an hour from Manhattan by bus, Mohawk in the 1950s of Ned Hall’s youth is a small town that is (from Hall’s perspective) dominated by bars, pool halls, blight, and affable losers. Russo populates Mohawk with the luckless and lazy, with bitter gossips and pretentious posers, with priests who dishonor their vows and hustlers who never intend to keep their promises. They often have a certain roguish charm but they are a sad lot. The misfortunes of a town in decline echo in its residents. The people of Mohawk and the town itself seem to have given up. Still, Russo invests all of the characters with dignity and humanity. They may be drunks and scoundrels and forgotten, but they have value. Young Hall lives in a perpetual state of humiliation. The father who abandoned him returns to embarrass him. The mother who protected him descends into a state that is beyond depression, becoming nearly catatonic, forcing him out of his house and into the alcohol-fueled world of white trash. When he first meets the lovely daughter of a wealthy man, Hall bleats like a goat. Seeing her fear, Hall wants to teach her the art of being unafraid, despite having never mastered it himself. Overcoming fear is one of the novel’s central themes. Much of the novel takes place post-Mohawk but the town’s formative force always lingers. Hall has been shaped by it but also by the desire to leave. While he is still in Mohawk, that desire is manifested in the time he sequesters himself in the library, reading books at random, learning more in a few quiet hours than in entire weeks at school. After he leaves, his motivation to move forward is fueled by the need to gain more distance from Mohawk, to escape its gravity. Richard Russo writes with a light touch and appealing wit that provokes soft chuckles. The tone makes bearable the dark, painful scenes that are at the novel’s core. The Risk Pool is much like a life: often quiet, sometimes raucous, well-managed until it seems like it might be out of control, filled with comic and tragic moments that sustain interest in times that are mostly mundane. To use adjectives that reviewers overuse but that are nevertheless apt in this case, The Risk Pool is brilliant, haunting, and touching. It is a masterpiece. Check it out!

From Publishers Weekly “Brilliantly fulfilling the promise of his first novel, Mohawk , Russo’s “richly satisfying narrative” is about the coming-of-age of Ned Hall, son of Sam Hall–a disreputable barfly, petty thief and gambler whose wicked ways place him at the lower end of the insurance risk pool. PW called the author’s prose style “as seductive as spring.” Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


The Risk Pool Paperback – April 12, 1994 by Richard Russo (Author) Review

I am a huge Russo fan and have read most of his other books. "The Risk Pool" is of nowhere near the same quality as "Empire Falls", "Nobody’s Fool", "Everybody’s Fool" or "The Bridge of Sighs. " Having recently finished both "Fool" books, it was interesting to note the similarities between the characters SamHall/Don Sullivan and Eileen/Ruth and the towns of North Bath/Mohawk. It was almost as though "The Risk Pool" was a first draft of the later novels. All 3 books feature a dysfunctional, alcoholic, ne’er-do-well major character, but he is so much more likable in the later 2 iterations. So, if you have limited time or patience and want to read one book about a dysfunctional, alcoholic, ne’er-do-well in a dying upstate New York town, read "Nobody’s Fool. " It’s fabulous, funny and endearing, while "The Risk Pool" is slow, depressing and boring. -Read Reviews-

Richard Russo is my favorite modern writer. He never disappoints. Sam Hall rebelled against anything that hampered his living life as he saw fit. He admitted to doing only one thing right in his life–his son, Ned. Ned turned out all right in spite of his father, whom he loved unreasonably. Ned’s temperamental, nerves-shot mother spent two years in an institution, leaving him to the ham fisted, rough-but-caring influences of his father. But thanks to living his early years with his mother, Ned was able to limit — somewhat–how much he emulated his father over his growing-up years. Russo’s tight use of the language and his ability to activate all five senses with mere words is awe-inspiring. The reader is left feeling the same unexplainable affection for Sam Hall that most of the folks in their small town felt. Throughout the book, Russo presented all the reasons in the world why Sam Hall shouldn’t be loved. But he also showed you many reasons why folks did. Life is complicated.

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