Mohawk, by Richard Russo
(New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1994, c1986)
"Mohawk, New York is one of those small towns that lie almost entirely on the wrong side of the tracks. Its citizens, too, have fallen on hard times. Dallas Younger, a star athlete in high school, now drifts from tavern to poker game, losing money, and, inevitably, another set of false teeth. His ex-wife, Anne, is stuck in a losing battle with her mother over the care of her sick father. And their son, Randall, is deliberately neglecting his school work -- because in a place like Mohawk, it doesn't pay to be too smart.
"In Mohawk, Richard Russo explores these lives with profound compassion and flint-hard wit. Out of derailed ambitions and old loves, secret hatreds and communal myths, he has created a richly plotted, densely populated, and wonderfully written novel that captures every nuance of America's backyard."
"The back door to the Mohawk Grill opens on an alley it shares with the junior high."
Was going to go for something fluffy again (Four Blondes, anyone?) but something about Russo's stories of hard luck former boom towns along the old Erie Canal seemed appropriate for my last scheduled week in Boston exile. He usually manages to be both wistful and warm-hearted at the same time. Let's see.
A good choice. As with Russo's other novels, he manages to portray upstate New York's Appalachia-meets-Rust-Belt, seen-better-days small towns and their inhabitants both so clearly, but with such compassion and warmth, that you almost find yourself seeing why it is that folks still live there (though you're not quite packing your own bags, of course). Mohawk isn't my world, but it's not too far away and I've driven through it often enough (this is metaphor, people; Russo's Mohawk isn't a real town, though it may as well be) that it was a good read for a homesick week. Recommended if you like portraits of small town Americana, or even if you just enjoyed Empire Falls and want to get a look at the town 30 years earlier.