This is one of Russo’s working class novels, and it’s absolutely beautiful. The Risk Pool is about fatherhood, masculinity, and the chaotic lives of those who are barely hanging on to remaining in the working class.
In his memoir Elsewhere, Russo wrote about his mother, a neurotic harpy who almost ate up his whole life. The Risk Pool is also very autobiographical and is based on Russo’s father. The love that the writer feels for both of his very difficult and burdensome parents practically drips off the pages.
I can’t recall reading any other American novel that concentrates so intensely on masculinity and the bond between father and son. Crucial topics and, unlike the midlife crisis of highly educated men that was the subject of Russo’s That Old Cape Magic, extremely under-explored in today’s literature.
The novel is about a hundred pages too long, unfortunately. Russo dragged it out to follow a four-part structure based on a quip about the four seasons in New England to which he seems very attached. You could easily cut out 1,5 of those parts, and the novel would be even better.
It’s really great, though. Very intense. Unforgettable characters. I’d say it’s one of Russo’s best if they weren’t all so wonderful.