Richard Russo has long been one of my favorite writers. Nobody’s Fool is one of the great 20th century American novels: truthful, funny and redemptive. Straight Man leaves me helpless with laughter. He’s very recently released a digital novella called Nate in Venice - available for Kindle here and Nook here. Read it the other night.
It was pleasant to be back in Venice (the setting of his Bridge of Sighs) with Richard Russo for an hour or so, even though the descriptions were less detailed than those you’d find in any travel guide - narrow streets, campos, bridges, squid-ink pasta, getting lost…disappointing in that respect, then.
Nate is a retired college professor on a Biennale-related tour of the city with a group that includes his estranged brother. The often mysterious Venice is the setting, then, for some other mysteries: what was the incident back at the college that resulted in great trouble for Nate? What’s the problem with his brother?
The mysteries are mostly solved and the novella is, as I said, enjoyable but ultimately unsatisfying – but unsatisfying in a way that would probably please any author – it was unsatisfying because, as a novella, it just wasn’t enough. Once introduced to Nate and the others in the group and in Nate’s family, I wanted to spend more time with them, watch and listen as they plunged more deeply into Venice and then travel to Rome. That’s the case with any good book. But Nate in Venice, gave me just enough time to get to know these characters more than I would in a short story. A short story is also often focused so sharply that the reader is satisfied enough when the specific questions raised by the author are answered = when he shuts the light off and shuts the door, we’re content to leave with him. But here, there was just enough richness and breadth to plant the desire for more.
Which is, depending on how you look at it, either a good thing, or a bad thing, or both.
There’s a vulgar term used pretty prominently in this novella - since it’s a term invented by Nate’s brother, it’s intended to show us something about him. certainly, but it did seem forced to me and might offend some readers. So be warned.
Nate in Venice (I keep wanting to type Nate the Great…) is a digital book, which is kind of ironic, considering Russo’s battles against Amazon last year.
It’s part of a series of shorter fiction and non-fiction available through a site called Byliner. Looks interesting.