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  • My Russian
  • Written by Deirdre McNamer
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780345439512
  • Our Price: $14.00
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My Russian

Written by Deirdre McNamerAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Deirdre McNamer

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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
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READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

While her family thinks she is vacationing in Greece, Francesca Woodbridge- disguised by the wig, the dress, and the limp of an elderly woman - checks into a local hotel just blocks from her home. The reason for her deceit is twofold: to step outside of her life and observe it from a distance and to watch the comings and goings in her neighborhood for clues to potential suspects in her husband's shooting.

Ever since the night her husband Ren was wounded by an intruder's gun, Francesca has felt uneasy in their marriage and resentful of how Ren has changed over the years. Now, as an undercover spy on her own life, she scans her history in her unsparing, sometimes darkly funny search for clarity - from the idealistic days of college when she first fell in love, through the quiet disappointments that have collected in the depths of her soul, to her recent, unexpected, passionate affair with her Russian gardener, Yuri, whose sudden, unexplainable disappearance leads her to question just who she has become. As she seeks an answer, she meets people she could never have known in her "real" life and views people she thought she knew as strangers. As she reveals who shot her husband, she is forced to see herself in a bold, new, and entirely unexpected light . . .

Excerpt

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.
Praise

Praise

"Deirdre McNamer writes with a slow-burning brilliance."
--BARBARA KINGSOLVER

"McNamer writes with extraordinary emotional acuity and with a keen sense of the small detail that says it all. . . . Quietly devastating."
--Chicago Tribune

"A careful writer, a master of the small, telling observation."
--The New York Times Book Review
About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Guide

"A lovely novel--beautifully written and observed on every page and in every sentence, suspenseful, taut, and true."--Boston Globe

"A serious, suspenseful examination of identity, friendship, marriage and motherhood--.Of the handful of novels about women in midlife crisis--this is one of the most original."--Wall Street Journal

"My Russian spins the fascinating story of a woman in a Northwest town who disappears in order to turn spy on her own unsatisfying life."
--Seattle Post-Intelligence

"My Russian is almost a thriller--What's artful about it--and what's ultimately so touching--is the way McNamer uses the conventions of the thriller to tell what is really a very interior, private story--.McNamer's book--has blood coursing through its veins. Her prose is so sophisticated and so carefully wrought."--Salon.com

"McNamer writes about domestic truths with uncompromising precision--.This feels more like an actual experience than a reading experience, and is later recalled more like a memory than a story."--Book Magazine

About the Author

DEIRDRE MCNAMER grew up in Montana, where she now teaches at the University of Montana in Missoula. My Russian is her third novel.

Discussion Guides

1. Reviews of My Russian have praised McNamer's portrait of Francesca as being one of "the most original" explorations of a woman's mid-life crisis in recent fiction. What are some of the elements that make her such an original creation?

2. "Who shot Ren?" is one of the central questions that carries the plot forward. Were you surprised to learn who did it?

3. Look back and examine the passages in which McNamer alludes to the possible culprits who shot Ren. How does she lead you to think it is someone other than the person it turns out to be while not technically "deceiving" the reader?

4. By the end of the novel, we learn who shot Ren and whether Francesca will assume a new identity or embrace her old one. What does Francesca learn by the end of the book?

5. What roles do the elements and the natural world play in this novel? How are they woven into the plot and themes of the book?

6. Many of McNamer's characters mark time with historical events; their lives and perceptions are changed significantly by some of these events. In what ways have the events she describes--or any of similar magnitude--altered your life or your outlook on life?

7. If Francesca decides to fake her death and assume a new identity, she will have to forfeit her role as a mother. Can you recall other novels, recent or historical, in which women entertain the possibility of "unbecoming" mothers, or in which women actually abandon their children?

8. Though Francesca's Russian gardener has a relatively small role in the actual text, why is My Russian an appropriate title?


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