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Richard Russo is one of the very best writers of his generation, and this collection of novella-length stories is simply outstanding. The stories themselves are highly original, with characters one does not want to leave, and the writing is beautiful and insightful. The narrators do an excellent job with great material.
The four stories in Trajectory are linked, perhaps, by the disappointments of their middle-aged narrators. Romance has faded or failed; jobs (if any) are less rewarding than expected. The protagonists—two professors, a real estate broker and a novelist/screenwriter—are good company, self-aware and friendly enough. They try to get along with the difficult people around them.
My favorite story was “Voice,” the second and longest. A retired professor takes a group art tour of Venice during the Biennale with his condescending older brother. Rather than exploring the art, he obsesses over his well-meaning but intolerable behavior in a Jane Austen seminar during his final semester of teaching. The story shifts back and forth between the final semester and the current tour, where he finds opportunities both for romance and for rapprochement with his brother. Well told and even suspenseful.
The final story, “Milton and Marcus,” is a perceptive take on Hollywood megastars. A screenwriter is called from New England to Jackson Hole to work with an aging star named William Nolan, clearly modeled on Robert Redford. The star, who wants to be called “Regular Bill,” has the confidence and narcissism not to regret his own selfish behavior. An entertaining portrait.
The narrators were all strong, low-key and not getting in the way of these well-written tales.