Late as usual, I headed up to Politics and Prose around 7 p.m. last night, took a wrong turn in Rock Creek Park, doubled back, found a great spot in the P&P parking lot, and hit the Richard Russo reading around 7:15 p.m.
The joint was packed, which made my parking spot even more amazing. The entire back of the store was set up with folding chairs, all of which were filled, and listeners stood in the aisles along the sides of the store all the way back to the information desk and beyond. I perched on the far end of the information desk and listened.
The store is wired for readings, so it was no trouble hearing Russo throughout the store, and the excerpt he read from his new novel has all of the characteristic wry humor of his previous work and maybe a little more sex. As I said, I arrived at the store late, so when I rushed upstairs, the first word I heard coming out of the speakers was "orgasm," and then a brief discussion of the relative disappointment this event produced in the narrator, so I more or less missed what I can only assume to be a sex scene. The remainder of the chapter involved being discovered by the woman's husband, the fact that all of them were acquaintances if not friends, and the subsequent awkwardness of the two men, the woman having gone back to her room before her husband arrived.
Afterwards, he fielded questions for a bit and then signed many many books. During the question and answer period, I gleaned the following: Straight Man is drawn from his experience teaching at Penn State-Altoona, a fact I pretty much knew, but he made much clearer in his answer about school budgets and department hiring policies and duck-killing threats. What I didn't know was this: he actually attended Penn State as a graduate student and studied fiction writing with Robert Downs, who just happened to be the very same professor I took for fiction writing. I'm now very inspired that I, too, can be just like Richard Russo.
Downs, by the way, is retired from professing but still writes, or at least still has been writing; his last novel came out in 2001. It's called The Fifth Season.