‘“Whoever said beggars can’t be choosers,” my grandfather would remark when she was out of earshot, “never met your mother.”’
Jean Russo was a single mother in the 1950s, badly paid and living with her only son, Richard, in the upstairs apartment of her parents’ home on Helwig Street in Gloversville, New York.
When Richard left for University, Jean saw her chance to escape a dead-end town in search of a better life elsewhere. So began a series of ill-conceived adventures, as ambitious son and restless mother strove to find somewhere to belong.
Hilarious and heartbreaking, a story of growing up and of growing old, of becoming a man whilst remaining a son, of thinking that the grass is greener somewhere else, but knowing that going home is inevitable: On Helwig Street is a poignant tribute to a complicated mother and a brilliant evocation of mid-century America.
This is a small masterpiece
An absorbing memoir of a town, a family, and an artist – one in which only the artist has reached his potential. Sharply observed, emotionally true and metaphorically rich
I loved this very affectionate and haunting portrayal of Russo’s mother and the glove-making world gone by. The man as a boy watching his own mother’s helpless and scattered journey through her illness, describing in touching detail what the boy knew but only the man can say. It reminds me of the power that a personal story can have
A beautifully executed book easeful and lucid in tone but spiked with a few telling moments of observation, humour and violence