Who lives the more useful and rewarding life, a steady man who stays and works lifelong at a small store in the same small town he grew up in, or a man who travels to far horizons and lives the affair-filled, wining and dining life of a successful, eccentric artist?

Pulitzer-prize-winning writer Richard Russo easily  pulled me into this multi-generational tome of the contrasting lives of old friends. I finished it–a door-stopper–over two days. Lately I have felt I live a small life. It is constrained by a decline in energy and health, and it is a life I try to keep balanced with diet and exercise and a daily rhythm. I have not made an impact on the world in terms of great art or a great contribution through a cause. This perspective is certainly one that requires reconciliation with self as most of us age. When we are young, we yearn to make a big impact on the world.

The main character of the novel, Lou, is writing about his life throughout the book, providing a mechanism for his self-reflection. The rest of the book comprises the action over generations. Lou’s life is lived out through a struggling middle-class life running a small convenience store, then two, then three. He treasures close relationships with family and friends. He values his old school mate, now an artist in Venice. He treasures his wife, whom he also drives mad because she sees him as overly optimistic, unrealistic, and lacking initiative.

But here is this man…undemanding…who holds steady and thinks well of others, and tries to be kind in his small circle in the town. Can we reconcile ourselves to that being a worthwhile life? Or to our own small lives being enough?

This is a compelling masterpiece of Russo’s and lingers provocatively in the mind. A long perspective on the past and future days of any one person.

that comes with aging and one we hav

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