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Trajectory by Richard Russo
May 02, 2017 | 256 Pages
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“Thoughtful, soulful . . . It will abruptly break your heart. That’s what Richard Russo does, without pretension or fuss, time and time again.” —Jennifer Senior, The New York Times 

“[Trajectory is] so rich and flavorsome that the temptation is to devour it all at once. I can’t in good conscience advise otherwise.” —Laura Collins-Hughes, The Boston Globe

“Russo develops these stories with smooth assurance, allowing readers to discover layers of meaning in his perfectly calibrated narration.” —Publishers Weekly

“Russo rarely wastes a word, interweaving details and dialogue into master classes on storytelling.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Russo’s [characters] are sharply in view, and like opera singers performing quintets or sestets, they are all vital contributors. Equally significantly, their problems spring from their personalities, and the resolutions are heart-warming because they do indeed feel like real possibilities. . . . All four stories are challenging because they raise questions about why we live our lives the way we do, and if that’s all right.”—Claire Hopley, The Washington Times
“Russo has fashioned tales compact enough to make an immediate impression (and to read in a single sitting), but rich [in] believable characters, graceful plotting and pointed dialogue.”—Peter Tonguette, The Columbus Dispatch

“Entertaining and compellingly provocative. . . . vibrant narratives with distinctive characters.”—Robert Allen Papinchak, New York Journal of Books

Author Q&A

How do you know if an idea is a short story or a novel?
The truth is, I don’t always know when what I’m working on is a novel or a short story.  That Old Cape Magic started out as a short story.  I figured twenty pages, tops.  It turned out to be 250 pages in print, longer in manuscript.  How could I have been so wrong?   Because the process of writing stories and novels isn’t so different, at least for me.  A good piece of fiction, regardless of length, is a collection of true moments.  How many will there be?  It’s sometimes difficult to predict, but what’s important is that each fictional moment ring true.  I take small narrative bites, chew thoroughly, swallow and repeat.
How do you see these four stories in relation to one another? Tell us what the title—Trajectory—reflects about this collection?
What ties these four long stories together is the fact that since turning fifty I’ve been trying to puzzle through the ins and outs of human destiny, including my own.  Successful people often rewrite their histories to suggest that free will reigns, that their success is a product of their own cleverness and hard work.  Less successful people often see the deck (fate) stacked against them.  There may be elements of truth to those claims, but I suspect it’s a good deal more complicated.  The characters in these stories have all come to a point in their lives where they’re wondering, How did I end up here?  It’s not just meaning that eludes them, but the mechanism, the arc, the trajectory.
Two of these stories involve professors struggling with difficult relationships to students. You have written about academia before. What interests you as a writer about the teacher-student dynamic?
I’ve had some great teachers and some really awful ones.  A good teacher, regardless of discipline, helps her students answer the most basic questions out there.  Who am I?  What and who do I love?  What am I good at?  Bad teachers, often without meaning to, use students to play out their own interior dramas, especially their personal failures.  It’s a toxic circumstance that’s far more interesting dramatically than “good teaching.”
One of the stories is set in Venice where I know you have spent some time (and hey you did write a novel called Bridge of Sighs!). Do you have a special relationship with the city?
My wife and I do have a special relationship to Venice, and there’s more to it, I think, than those wonderful, sweet, tiny vongole.  There isn’t a straight line or right angle in the city.  It’s dark narrow, winding streets, so full of wonderful surprises, might be a map of the human mind, and like the mind Venice is built on a foundation that’s less solid than we imagine. 
As someone who has had his books developed into films, was it fun to write about a lapsed novelist trying to rekindle his screenwriting career?
I loved writing “Milton and Marcus,” which is both the title of my story and the protagonist’s screenplay.  Including that screenplay in the larger story for a dialogue about the relationship between art and commerce, individual imagination and collaboration, art and artist.  I’ve worked with some great actors and directors, and their larger-than-life worlds provide a stark contrast to the lonely work of the novelist.

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