In just four stories, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Richard Russo’s latest collection, Trajectory, attends to several fundamental questions of human existence. Among them, who we are when no one else is looking, when we know it is time to let go, and what we are willing to fight for.
The protagonists learn—in some way—who they are at the core: someone who forgives, someone who betrays, or perhaps both. This common thread of learning connects the pieces to human experience because all of us have, at some time, been students. In the opening story, “Horseman,” an academic setting develops this theme of revelation as a college professor confronts a cheating student and realizes her own authenticity may be in question. The other three stories all feature older male protagonists questioning themselves and the worlds in which they live with humility, fear, vitality, and humor. People who believe life stops after a certain age need only read Russo’s latest collection to see richness and depth are companions to a long life.
A trajectory is a path an object or, in this case, a person takes through space and time; Russo’s Trajectory suggests our paths are never as straight or as simple as we may wish. But just as one character muses that “this brutal world simply will not spare you,” another affirms that there “just might be grounds for hope.” These two ideas anchor Russo’s most recent collection, and their familiar, and at times heartbreaking, paradox is exactly why the book is worth reading.