...the real revelation in Trajectory is 'Milton and Marcus,' the story of a down-on-his-luck novelist and sometime screenwriter who’s summoned to the home of a legendary actor ... Don’t let the wickedness of 'Milton and Marcus' fool you. It happens to be the most beautiful story in the book. And how much of it is true is beside the point. What matters is how it reflects the larger themes of Russo’s work. Jackson Hole is the ultimate foil to the decaying mill towns of Russo’s novels, and actors the ultimate foils to the low-esteem schlubs Russo writes about so well ... It will abruptly break your heart. That’s what Richard Russo does, without pretension or fuss, time and time again.
...[a] collection of short fiction so rich and flavorsome that the temptation is to devour it all at once. I can’t in good conscience advise otherwise ... That sounds like a terrible downer, but glumness isn’t what Russo has in mind. Even unfolding as it does in the middle of the recession, with the real estate market dried up and businesses starved for customers who in turn are starved for cash, 'Intervention; percolates with mocking humor. It dips into despair, yet it is actually about the reanimation of hope gone dormant ... Russo frets about the American culture of pointless acquisitiveness. He worries over the breathtaking privilege of the uber-wealthy. Yet he is no ascetic. The flip side of aversion is fascination.
All four [stories] retain the insightfulness and sympathy of Russo’s earlier work, but they are restrained, free of dramatic or improbable twists. In this respect, they call to mind Russo’s terrific novel Nobody’s Fool (1993), a panoramic and minutely observed book ... Throughout the collection, Russo’s tone is wistful and reflective; Trajectory is a less comic, less antic and gleeful book than Nobody’s Fool ... Russo’s skill is such that flaws are easy to forgive. Thoughtful and warmhearted, his fiction has the engaging quality of tales told by a friend, over drinks, about a person we know in common. And so we lean forward, eager to hear what happened next.
The four tales here are replete with Russo’s insightful studies of relationships between couples and/or brothers and observations about the state of humankind … Throughout, we enjoy Russo’s skill at weaving a story in which conflicted characters find moments of revelation and, sometimes, redemption. While I missed the broad comedy in this Pulitzer Prize winner’s other books, these stories are still rewarding and worth ruminating about.
Some Russo fans will miss the blue-collar heroes who populate the best of his novels, such as Nobody's Fool and The Risk Pool, which describe working-class lives with straight-on honesty and an absence of condescension. Others may miss the drop-the-book laughs you can experience from reading his university satire, Straight Man. But they'll enjoy the stories in Trajectory, and Russo newcomers will begin to scope out why he's a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Though Russo will never join Flannery O’Connor, Bernard Malamud, John Cheever, Annie Proulx and Steven Millhauser in the ranks of successful novelists who proved even better short story writers, the near-instant gratification of Russo’s short stories is nothing to sneeze at ... the reward is the hard-won wisdom, the remarkable empathy Russo demonstrates for working-class people, or Ivy League professors, or whomever the book at hand happens to profile.
As ever, Russo is superb at finding spots of comedy in these situations ... This gives the four stories a peculiar sameness; the narration shares a melancholy/buoyant tone regardless of setting. But the autumnal mood fits for these tales of reckonings, and Russo rarely wastes a word, interweaving details and dialogue into master classes on storytelling. 'Some writers have less fuel in the tank than others,' one of his characters laments, but Russo himself is chugging along just fine.
The four stories in Russo’s new collection are all winners, and one is a standout ... As always, snappy banter defines personality; Russo’s ear for dialogue is superb ... Russo develops these stories with smooth assurance, allowing readers to discover layers of meaning in his perfectly calibrated narration.