Cover image for My Russian
My Russian
McNamer, Deirdre.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [1999]

Physical Description:
278 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Now Francesca is supposedly in Greece with a tour group, but she is actually living in disguise just blocks from where her husband, Ren, and her teenage son await her return. Ren, a lawyer, is recovering from a gunshot wound inflicted some months earlier by a mysterious intruder. Francesca moves unnoticed through the town she calls home, seeing it with the seizing eyes of a traveler. Her memories have a similar hyperclarity. She tells a series of stories that traverse the past four decades, beginning with her childhood in a prairie town ringed by underground missiles aimed at Russia. Her voice is searching, specific, unsparing, and sometimes darkly funny. In the process of listening, we learn who shot her husband, a modest mystery that rests on a larger one: for a woman like Francesca Woodbridge, what makes a fully lived, fully conscious life?

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

While her family believes she is on vacation in Greece, Francesca Woodbridge lives just blocks away, spying on her family and friends. Why? To find the mysterious intruder who shot and wounded her husband. But, like Atwood's Lady Oracle, Francesca also desires the adventure found in disguising herself and living under an assumed name. As Jeanne Thompson, she recalls her childhood, her college years, the unraveling of her marriage, and an affair with her Russian gardener. She even reveals a passionate kiss with an 18-year-old boy (here's to you, Mrs. Robinson). She tells these personal stories against the background of public tragedies: Mount St. Helen's eruption, the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, and the NASA Challenger explosion. Author McNamer has created a character who, in her late 40s, at the turn of this century, looks back on her life to evaluate and reflect. The narrative voice is honest, straightforward, and clear; Francesca's storytelling feels like a longtime friend confessing over coffee. --Michelle Kaske

Publisher's Weekly Review

A woman who impulsively decides to change her life is the protagonist of McNamer's piercingly intuitive third novel. With the clarity and accuracy of a jeweler's loop, McNamer (Rima in the Weeds; One Sweet Quarrel) masterfully dissects the oppressive torpor of life in an anonymous Pacific Northwest town, where everyone seems content, and "rhetorical politenesses are not yet considered lethally inefficient, or even insincere." Weary of her circumscribed existence as a middle-aged, ordinary housewife, and suffering from the loss of her lover, Yuri, a Russian gardener, Francesca Woodbridge sits alone in a hotel room a few blocks from her home. Her stuffy attorney husband, Ren, still recovering from a mysterious attack from a masked intruder, and her teenage son, have no idea that she has flown back from her vacation in Greece. "I am here," she says, "to assess the situation... to spy on my waiting life." As her new self, Francesca feels "suspended in a nameless new lightness" and newly capable of introspection. "One morning... I realized that my interior self, the self I did not present to the world or even those closest to me, seemed to have burned out. It was gray sticks and ashes." This is a woman as haunted by should-have-dones and might-have-beens as Clarissa Dalloway, and who similarly laments the loss of a lover. Though McNamer universalizes her heroine's emotional limbo, suggesting that we are all one step from overhauling our lives (a step we never actually take), her queryÄwhat if we did?Ämakes for a provocative, compelling story. As Francesca abandons her stalled life for an "accelerating" one, an intricate mystery unravels as well. The puzzle of who shot Ren Woodbridge seems to be obvious at least three times during the course of the story, but McNamer manages to sustain the suspense until nearly the final page. Other than a few moments of stilted dialogue, the narrative pulses and flows like good poetryÄand its searing portrait of the consequences of choosing comfort over desire is memorable. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Her family thinks she is vacationing in Greece, but in fact Francesca Woodbridge is hiding 11 blocks from her house, spying, remembering, and examining her life. She watches her teenage son and her husband, Ren, who some months earlier was wounded by an intruder. She remembers her lush garden, her Russian gardener, and the affair they had. Her memories spiral around the reader, each acute observation illuminating her past history and current situation, each reflection adding layers to this rich and lovely novel. Francesca remembers watching ash from erupting Mt. St. Helens cover her town, and she recounts what Yuri told her of the Chernobyl explosion. In the end, readers find out who shot Ren, but by then the mystery has faded into the larger plot, and Francescas quest for meaning has taken center stage. McNamer (One Sweet Quarrel, LJ 2/15/94) creates a character to care about in a bold, splendid novel. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/99]Yvette Weller Olson, City Univ. Lib., Renton, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



ELEVEN BLOCKS from this darkened room, I have a husband and a handsome house. My bathrobe hangs from a hook in that house; my gardening clogs rest by the door; my furious son goes in and out, his demiwife in tow. In a drawer, in a desk, in that house, an itinerary tells them I fly home in a dozen days. The date is highlighted and starred. When I leave this room, I wear a wig and some odd clothing I bought in Athens. Just like that, I've become a person who no longer fits the shape and color of my absent self, as it exists in the minds of my husband and son. They would look straight at this version of me and see no one they knew. I'm quite sure of that. I am here to assess the situation. I'm here, let's say, to spy on my waiting life.   The couple next door in 202--pastel knits, running shoes--left this morning. They were here for a visit with a floundering daughter whose house is too cramped for guests. They liked the motel better anyway, because they could talk about her when they returned to the room each night. And the father could cough at alarming and luxurious length and no one would glance sideways, no one would prescribe. His wife stopped doing that decades ago. They are the sort of old ones who seem to be melting--all the corners growing rounded, the head sagging forward, the body folding into itself in a whispery version of the way the lit-up monks folded themselves into their brilliant oblivion. Such a thing to think! But they keep coming to me, these illuminations of the ordinary people I call to mind. At this moment, yes, those old people sit on the edge of a bed worrying over a restaurant receipt, their white hair beginning to smoke. Yesterday on the elevator they introduced themselves as Mary-Doris and Ed and told me the outlines of the situation with the daughter. Mary-Doris confided that she wouldn't mind walking around town a bit, get the kinks out, but Ed wouldn't do it. He has to drive everywhere. The rare times she gets him out walking, all he does is complain about the kinds of pets people keep, and the kinds of yards, and all the foreign cars. He worked for GM in Detroit for forty-five years and still wears his GM baseball cap. As she told me about him, he watched her mildly, hands in his pockets. I seemed to know, looking at him, that he had no inter-mediary zone between his social self and his stark 4 A.M. self, no place in his mind to keep company with himself. You see these people on planes. They try small talk with the person next to them; it doesn't work; they eventually pick up the airline magazine and flip through it as if it's something that fell off the back of a truck. Mary-Doris said that she had been a housekeeper for a family in Grosse Pointe for almost twenty years, that she had retired last year and what did I think they'd given her as a going-away present? Some stocks, I said. A gift certificate. A toaster oven. No, none of it. They had given her a papered bloodhound, worth a lot. But this dog ate so ravenously and was so nervy and big that she'd sold it for seventy-five dollars when they moved to their retirement house in Arizona. They called the creature the Disposer. This morning I put on my taupe pantsuit and my walking shoes and my black wig, and I knocked at 202. I'd heard them moving around since six. I asked Mary-Doris if she wanted to go for a walk. She'd be good cover. She'd make me fully invisible. I'm here, let's say, to correct the course of my life. We walked slowly south, away form the Trocadero Motel and the interstate, and made our way into the university area with its spreading maples and its old Colonials, Tudors, viny bungalows. There stood my big house, windows flashing in the morning sun, the sprinklers sending up neat water fans. It looked serene and polished in that early light, as if it  had never known trouble or had locked it away. The lawn was freshly mowed, and the clematis bloomed on the trellis. Behind the trellis stretched my landscaped yard, so carefully wild. The work of my Russian gardener. He made a new yard, and then he was gone. And now it is up to us. "There's a pretty place," said Mary-Doris, squinting for a longer look at my house. "That trellis looks a little raggedy, but nothing a few minutes with the snippers couldn't fix. Of course, these people hire the work done. Someone to design it all--someone to keep the weeds pulled." Then she told me about the rock garden she'd made around their modular house out there in the desert where they lived now. And I told her that I too hoped to have a garden someday, when I got my life back on track. She studied me. Excerpted from My Russian by Deirdre McNamer All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.