Friday, June 13, 2008

A cheating entry: AT WEDDINGS AND WAKES by Alice McDermott

The Book: Alice McDermott, AT WEDDINGS AND WAKES. Quality Paperback Book Club edition, 1992. Very good condition (theoretically)
First read: 1992
Owned since: 1992

I can't find my copy of this book, and have a bad feeling that it's gone -- but this is the book I want to write about, dammit, because Tim Russert died today, and he was one of us.

Alice McDermott writes beautiful books about the Irish-American experience, filled with details so intrinsic to my family's life that it would never occur to me to notice them. I never fully understood or appreciated that experience until I started reading her books: the pride, the clannishness, the secrecy and gallantry and fatalism.

Most of all, more than anything, we take care of our own. AT WEDDINGS AND WAKES is the story of three children growing up in New York, learning about life through the gatherings of their family -- as the title suggests, at weddings and wakes. In this book, as in life, great sorrow follows great joy; the joy is surprising, the sorrow is not.

My sorrow over Tim Russert's death has surprised me. I didn't realize how much I admired him, how much I trusted him, how much I counted on him to serve as intermediary between me and the howling maelstrom of American politics.

When I lived in Washington, he was my neighbor, kind of; NBC News was half a mile from my last D.C. house, and it wasn't uncommon to see him and his wife out for dinner. TV personalities are often markedly better or worse looking in person; Tim Russert looked exactly the same on TV and in real life, a big man who would have fit right in on The Muppet Show. His head was enormous, and when he was out in private he walked with a slight ducking motion, trying not to be too conspicuous. But he was always cordial to people who greeted him, and would smile almost sheepishly when people recognized him.

It feels wrong and unfair that this election should happen without him, and I'm almost angry that he won't be here to explain it to us.

Tim Russert was a true Irish-American hero. He worked hard, he made good, he did it right. He earned it. He made us proud.

God, I'll miss him.

1 comment:

Ed Lamb said...

You want to know how much Russert was one of us?

So much so that I just posted a nearly identical set of sentiments on my own blog this morning before surfing over this way.

Of course, I was less literally. Great writer, that Alice MDermott.

Good man, that Tim Russert.

-- Ed