This first work of non-fiction from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls is at once hilarious and heartbreaking: a son’s poignant tribute to his complicated mother and a brilliant evocation of mid-century America.
‘“Whoever said beggars can’t be choosers,” my grandfather would remark when she was out of earshot, “never met your mother.”’
Jean Russo was a single mother in the 1950s, badly paid and living with her only son, Richard, in the upstairs apartment of her parents’ home on Helwig Street in Gloversville, New York.
When Richard left for University, Jean saw her chance to escape a dead-end town in search of a better life elsewhere. So began a series of ill-conceived adventures, as ambitious son and restless mother strove to find somewhere to belong.
Hilarious and heartbreaking, a story of growing up and of growing old, of becoming a man whilst remaining a son, of thinking that the grass is greener somewhere else, but knowing that going home is inevitable: On Helwig Street is a poignant tribute to a complicated mother and a brilliant evocation of mid-century America.
“This is a small masterpiece”
DJ Taylor, Independent on Sunday
“An absorbing memoir of a town, a family, and an artist – one in which only the artist has reached his potential. Sharply observed, emotionally true and metaphorically rich”
J Robert Lennon, Guardian
“I loved this very affectionate and haunting portrayal of Russo’s mother and the glove-making world gone by. The man as a boy watching his own mother’s helpless and scattered journey through her illness, describing in touching detail what the boy knew but only the man can say. It reminds me of the power that a personal story can have”
Hugo Hamilton, author of 'The Speckled People'
Robert Collins, Sunday Times
“A beautifully executed book easeful and lucid in tone but spiked with a few telling moments of observation, humour and violence”
Keith Miller, Daily Telegraph
“On Helwig Street is an excellent addition to the burgeoning genre of memoirs dealing on the complexities of the maternal bond. There is a fine line between mothering and smothering, a distinction Russo explores masterfully in this enjoyable and thoughtful book”