I admit it. I went to the outstanding Brews & Prose series to hear Chigozie Obioama read from his novel The Fishermen (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/books/review/the-fishermen-by-chigozie-obioma.html?_r=0). I had heard of Russell and knew she was local, but something, probably a summary of her novel The Sparrow, had made me reluctant to explore her work.
And then she spoke. Similar to the way Woody Allen doesn’t allow clips from his films to be shown at award ceremonies, Russell said she preferred not to read from her work, in this case, Epitaph (http://www.npr.org/2015/03/07/388955173/30-seconds-that-echo-through-history-in-epitaph). And I was transfixed. Still reluctant to try something like The Sparrow, I chose Doc instead. She smiled graciously when I asked her to sign it. She said it was her favorite book.
It is absolutely stunning. Russell’s carefully integrated research forced me periodically to remind myself that this was fiction. Her ability to sculpt so many and such a wide range of characters, some of whom I thought I knew, is just remarkable. She makes small things essential, and renders the profound with such remarkable grace. I read the moment when Doc is last feeling well, feeling good about himself, several times. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
To enter the world Russell creates here is to inhabit a time and place other than our own and to be completely immersed in it. My only complaint about this book is that it’s over. I will try to wait until Epitaph comes out in paperback; I doubt I’ll make it.