Richard Russo and Andre Dubus III Have A Lot To Say To Each Other

Richard Russo and Andre Dubus III have a whole lot to say to each other. Here's some stuff they talked about last week that didn't make it into the original article.

Reading from "The Whore's Child" | Boston Book Festival, Rabb Auditorium at Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St, Boston | October 15 @ 4pm

"WHAT'S UP WITH MEN?" FEATURING ANDRE DUBUS III Old South Church Sanctuary, 645 Boylston St, Boston | October 15 @ 4:30 pm

On Talking To Yourself
Richard Russo: There's a wonderful line from an old movie with Peter O'Toole where he has a Christ complex and he stands on this great big cross he's constructed, arms out in a crucifixion pose, and a reporter comes to talk to him and says, "When did you realize that you were God?" and he says, "Well one day while I was praying, I realized that I was just talking to myself." So I had a God like moment there.

Andre Dubus III: That is wonderful! So we all are God. God is real!

On the concept of "home."

RR: I wrote that novel, That Old Cape Magic, and [protagonist] Jack Griffin's parents are always chasing a house on the Cape which they can't afford. . . Their idea of home is a place you cannot get to.  I was having a lot of fun with Jack's parents, but in fact there's a lot of Barbara, my wife, and my feelings about home that I've managed to transfer onto these people that I've treated very satirically. I
think Andre and I are different in this because when you build a home. It's very different from moving from one place to another After you've done that a dozen or half a dozen times, you start to wonder where you really do belong.

AD: I've moved 18 times or maybe 20 times before we got to the south - no, 25 times - in my life. . . Here I am walking barefoot on my floorboards that I laid next to the baseboards I nailed next to the walls I framed. We moved in when I was 46 years old, but it is my first home. It is my family's home, my wife and kids' home, but it is definitely my first home.

I thought home ownership was what was gonna make it a home, but I could have a mortgage anywhere, and then move on the way you have. I live about a mile, mile and a half east of Newburyport, in the woods, and right now I am looking at a photograph of Newburyport - I gotta show you this when you guys come to the house! It's Newburyport 1970-71, the summer my single mother moved me and my three siblings to Newburyport. It is a bombed-out. Looks like Beirut. There's four-foot weeds growing out of the ground, there's abandoned cars. It's an abandoned tough, ugly waterfront town. You'd never guess, with the Starbucks and the boutiques.  

I left the valley and went to school in Texas and then I kind of roamed the country. The woman I was dating wanted to move to New England, and I associated the entire region with depression, alcoholism, violence, drug use, precocious sex in teens, stolen cars. I saw all of New England as just a tough, ugly place, and I wanted nothing to do with going back. This relationship was
on its last legs, and I think that's why I followed her back, to try to save it. We lasted about three months. I found myself living on a trailer on the beach of Plum Island just streets away from where I'd been beaten mercilessly as a kid, streets away from this town that I hated with all my heart, and here I am, back in it.

I found myself working in halfway houses with the same kind of kids I grew up with, and I felt as if somebody had pulled me back into a
nightmare. You know when you have those nightmares where you're back in high school? It's like waking up and I am back in high school.

I think this feels like my first home and real home, not so much because this is my kid's home, not so much because I'd built it with my bare hands, which is a beautiful experience, but because it's actually right in this area that was a puss-filled wound for me in my psyche, and to actually come back to this area and set down roots, to travel back to Haverhill where I had so many bad experiences on a regular basis to see friends, and now for selling books.

On what happens to famous writers at large

AD: There's a great line from Tolstoy. He said, "Art is transferring feeling from one heart to another." I do get to my [writing] cave every morning, but the thing that keeps me from being fatigued when I get up in front of people and read and talk is the conversation after the reading, the woman who comes up to you and says, "You know, your last book got me through a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments."

RR: I had a woman who was reading Straight Man say to me, "Your book helped me leave my husband. Thanks!" I said, "Well, hey, don't tell him, okay?"

There are moments in the book signing line that are so intense and beautiful, and it's just an extension of the reading and writing experience where artists transfer feeling from one heart to another. You're hoping that you've achieved the a-word, and the only way to achieve it is to capture some kind of truth.

We love the cave and we love being in the cave. As I said, we've moved all those times so that I would have to teach less. And it wasn't that I hated teaching. I loved teaching. I just didn't love it as much as the cave. But the thing about the cave is that it's empty, and we need to come out of the cave every now and then because we as writers, the one thing we never seldom get to see, we don't get to see the book land, except the rare occasion when you'll be sitting on a plane, and you'll see somebody reading your book.

I don't know about you, Andre, but I don't spend an enormous amount of time thinking about people reading my books, but it's hard not to look at somebody when they're sitting there, across the aisle from you, reading your book, and they have no idea that you're there. And when they smile or chuckle, you want to say, ‘Okay what was that?'

AD: In my case, if I see them laugh or smile, I know I've failed because I don't have any comedy in my book at all. You're supposed to be
freaking crying!

Richard Russo on his forthcoming memoir

The memoir is really a portrait of my mother. The essay [in Granta] about Gloversville was part and parcel of the portrait of her. I've had this long standing love/hate relationship with this town. I love it when I write about it and I turn it into whatever I need it to be to suit my story. The real town won't cooperate with me - they seem to have this crazy notion that they are entitled to their own lives and their own realities, and the more I try to twist them, the more resistant they become.

The real Gloversville that I've discovered in the writing of this book, is not so much my Gloversville as my mother's and her hatred of the place, which had always thwarted her, continues to this day to intrude on my own vision of the place. Every time I felt or I said something good about it, it was a betrayal.

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