Summary and book reviews of The Whore's Child by Richard Russo

The Whore's Child

by Richard Russo

The Whore's Child
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2002, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2003, 272 pages

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Book Summary

With a fluency of tone that will surprise even his devoted readers these short stories capture both bewildering horror and heartrending tenderness with an absorbing, compassionate authority.

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his best-selling Empire Falls—also named the year's best novel by Time—Richard Russo now focuses, in his first book of short fiction, on a fresh and fascinating range of human behavior. With a fluency of tone that will surprise even his devoted readers, he captures both bewildering horror and heartrending tenderness with an absorbing, compassionate authority.

We warm to these newcomers—as to all Russo's characters—almost despite ourselves. A jaded Hollywood moviemaker uncovers a decades-old flame he never knew he'd harbored. A precocious fifth grader puzzles over life, love and baseball as he watches his parents' marriage dissolve. Another child is forced into a harrowing cross-country escape whose actual purpose he learns only after the fact. An elderly couple rediscovers the power, and the misery, of their relationship during a long-awaited retreat to a resort island. And in the title story, a septuagenarian nun invades the narrator's college writing workshop with an incredible saga.

The Whore's Child

Sister Ursula belonged to an all but extinct order of Belgian nuns who conducted what little spiritual business remained to them in a decrepit old house purchased by the diocese seemingly because it was unlikely to outlast them. Since it was on Forest Avenue, a block from our house, I'd seen Sister Ursula many times before the night she turned up in class, but we never had spoken. She drove a rusted-out station wagon that was always crowded with elderly nuns who needed assistance getting in and out. Though St. Francis Church was only a few blocks away, that was too far to walk for any of them except Sister Ursula, her gait awkward but relentless. "You should go over there and introduce yourself someday," Gail, my wife, suggested more than once. "Those old women have been left all alone." Her suspicion was later confirmed by Sister Ursula herself. "They are waiting for us to die," she confessed. "Impatient of how we clutch to our miserable existences."

"I'm sure...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Such delicacy and compassion, or is she a very special case? What do the younger students' comments reveal about them?

  2. The act of telling or writing one's story is usually thought of as therapeutic. What is the cost of Sister Ursula's compulsion to write her story? Given what she learns in the process, how do you imagine she will respond to this new knowledge?

  3. The critic Diane Roberts noted, "Russo is a master of the small moment as nuclear explosion, the life-changing turn of the screw" (Houston Chronicle). In which stories are such moments of insight particularly powerful?

  4. In several of these stories, husbands and wives are seriously at odds, and children are caught between feuding parents, or parents have to ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New Yorker

There is a big, wry heart beating at the center of Russo's fiction.

Publishers Weekly

Russo's rueful understanding of the twisted skein of human relationships is as sharp as ever, and the dialogue throughout is barbed, pointed and wryly humorous. The collection is a winner.

Library Journal

A first collection from Russo, who did so splendidly last year with Empire Falls.

Booklist - JoanneWilkinson

Despite the darkness of his themes, all of the stories are told with great authority and near flawless technique.

Kirkus Reviews

There may be more important writers around, but none is more likable, or more dependably entertaining and rewarding, than Russo.

Reader Reviews

Jessa

A Wonderful Read
I had to read this book for an Honors American Literature class, and from the books my teacher had picked so far, I was less than excited. However, upon reading this book, I was actually into it. The story was quite gripping with just the right ...   Read More

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