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who cosponsored the state's death penalty bill, and ends with scenes from recentprofiles ofmovie mogul Harvey Weinstein, director Wes Anderson and famed jeweler Yves Piaget. We're there as the assemblyman serenades his constituents at a spaghetti fund-raiser, when Weinstein accepts a medal at the French Consulate (then punts the evening 's festivities to attend a screening of Chocolat) and when Piaget hosts a dinner party for guests bejeweled in everything but Piaget. In between we meet, among others, John Huston and Humphrey Bogart discussing communism over lunch; Bill Clinton confessing his ignorance of the trifecta at a book signing in George Plimpton's Manhattan apartment; Pee Wee RusseU being presented to the Argentine Ambassador at the first Newport Jazz Festival; well-heeled ladies letting their hair down at a San Diego spa; and Jerry Stiller squirming his way through a Friar's Club Roast. "If I find it interesting to write," Ross explains with trademark succinctness , "I naturally assume the reader will find it interesting to read." And we do. With equal parts humor and compassion, Ross shows us famous people doing ordinary things (Herbert Hoover at seventy-five, walking New York City, amused at his own anonymity), ordinary people doing ordinary things (Indiana high school seniors oblivious to the marvels ofNewYork) and ordinarypeople doing extraordinary things (a new grade school principal comforting teachers and parents in the first days after September 11). And she has a delicious knack for capturing in words the sparks that fly when strange bedfeUows kiss: Benny Goodman and Yehudi Menuhin, Norman Mailer and Mohammed Ali, Ernest Hemingway and Marlene Dietrich These pieces are some of the most colorful and reflect what feels like Ross's own giddiness at finding herself present at such surprising pairings. Some critics (and even a few editors ) have characterized Ross's work as "fly-on-the-waU" reporting, a term that Ross disavows. "Any editor," she bristles, "instructing a reporter to be a fly—on or off the waU—is misguided ." Her technique, she explains, is grounded in being "simultaneously detached yet empathetic," a skül she attributes as much to gift as to craft. Using her talents for detaUed scene and revelatory dialogue, Ross tells her stories with the vividness of film, drawing us into her subjects' lives as participants rather than eavesdroppers . The end result is journalism that celebrates life, truth-telling void of cruelty or phoniness and a new generation of journalistic storytellers whose own work promises to preserve the legacy of a remarkable woman. (PU) The Whore's Child by Richard Russo Knopf, 2002, 272 pp., $24 In "The Farther You Go," the third story in Richard Russo's new coUection , the father offers a fitting remark for what troubles the rest of the characters . The term is "faUure of imagination ," and Hank, a prostate-cancer survivor, first uses it to describe his wife's inadequacy. After surgery she's bought him a riding lawn mower that ends up making the chore more painful to his recovering body. This is one of the many "failures" he points out, including the refusal of his daughter The Missouri Review · 209 to visit him in the hospital. "It wasn't that she couldn't imagine me with cancer," he explains. "She couldn't imagine me with a dick. That I am a man has somehow escaped her, which is why she doesn't think twice about bending over in front of me in her peasant blouse." Russo's style, typicaUy straightforward and easygoing, doesn't seek to shock his readers any more than it attempts tocoverup forhis characters. He allows them to speak naturaUy in their own voices, and it's because he puts such trust in his characters that we do too. We feel rewarded by their humor and intelligence, and we're able to forgive them when their judgments seem too harsh. Following up Empire Falls, which won this year's Pulitzer Prize, Russo continues to show his keen sense of relationships. He draws attention to the subtleties that drive people apart and the extreme conditions that sometimes, despite their best wishes, force people back together. In this, Russo's sixth book but...


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