After eight commanding works of fiction, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls turns to memoir in this witty, moving account of his life, his parents and the depressing hometown they all struggled to escape
In its heyday Gloversville, New York was a prosperous beacon of the leather-goods industry, famously producing nine out of ten pairs of American gloves. But by the time Richard Russo was growing up there in the 1950s, the only son of a largely absent father and a mother, Jean, who suffered from ‘nerves’, Gloversville had fallen victim to changing fashions and gone bust.
A better life elsewhere was the dream Jean instilled in her son and strived to secure for them both. Vividly recalling the road trips and adventures that took them far from Gloversville but always led them back home, Russo describes how childhood segued into adulthood and parenthood in the company of his restless mother. At the same time he recounts with touching honesty how the literary success that enriched his own life was at odds with the disappointment that punctuated hers.
At once intimate, heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny, this is a son’s poignant tribute to his 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”