Maine writer Richard Russo is an outspoken critic of the book-selling titan and its predatory tactics. Like many authors, he worries that the company’s efforts to quash competition threaten independent bookstores and the values they embrace.

But what’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning author to do?

With his new book, Russo is rekindling the debate on his own terms and defying the digital domain. “Interventions” is a throwback to a hard-copy world — a quartet of stories, each bound separately, with illustrations by the author’s daughter, artist Kate Russo, and boxed in a slipcase.

It’s available in traditional book format only — no e-books, thank you very much.

The real beauty of this volume, of course, transcends its packaging. Russo is an old-fashioned storyteller who builds a narrative piece by piece, allowing characters to discover themselves along the way.

Simple phrases such as “call me” or “I’m sure you don’t mean that” become a sort of code, a shorthand among characters. At a time when over-sharing is a common trait in our culture, Russo reminds us that the telling detail, when well-placed, can be a revelation. (In one story, he ascribes the survival of a 30-year marriage to “a mutual willingness to let an arched eyebrow do the heavy lifting of soliloquy.”)

In this collection, he offers short pieces — a novella, two short stories and an essay — that manage to convey the substance of much larger work.

The book’s title, “Interventions,” reflects a theme that runs throughout this anthology.

The two short stories take place in college settings — a familiar venue for Russo, who used to teach at Colby College. In the wonderfully layered “Horseman,” a question of plagiarism blooms into larger issues of identity and self-portrayal. In “The Whore’s Child,” a nun enrolls in a fiction workshop, where her own story turns the class on its head.

In the essay “High and Dry,” Russo returns to Gloversville, N.Y., to untangle memories of his boyhood home and the leather industry that both built and shattered a community.

The book’s longest entry, “Intervention,” is a novella that features Maine in a prominent role. Ray, a local Realtor, finds himself in a down market, caught between difficult clients and a pesky medical diagnosis that he’d rather ignore. Some arm-twisting by his wife and a friend, however, and a new view of his family’s past, brighten his outlook.

Mainers especially will enjoy Russo’s quips about the state and its hallmarks, both real and imagined.

“‘If things get really bad,’ people said, ‘we’ll sell everything and move to Maine,’ as if Maine were a foreign country,” Russo writes. “Liberals came fleeing conservatives, Libertarians fleeing government everybody fleeing the culture, as if there were no cable TV or Internet access north of Boston, as if it were possible, by means of geography, to escape Snooki and hip-hop and Sarah Palin and bird flu.”

Readers will be well rewarded by this book, which displays Russo’s characteristic empathy, humor and ease.

Some may debate which story is the standout here — though, frankly, an argument could be made for any one of them.


Joan Silverman is a freelance writer who lives in Kennebunk.