Reading a Richard Russo novel, especially one of his first three, is kind of like being wrapped in a warm blanket during a cold fall or winter evening, even if the things he writes about are far from being warm or comforting. He writes about such devastating topics as loneliness, isolation and the marginalization of an individual in a small town, but he does so in a way that is completely optimistic and loving, that you just can’t help being entranced by the stories he weaves and the people he crafts, even in a novel like The Risk Pool, which isn’t as good as his other two novels in his first three published, Mohawk and Nobody’s Fool. Russo, while a great storyteller second to none, he is not without his weaknesses, which show a little to often in this novel, with them being his tendency to throw around exposition a little too freely. The title of the book is very misleading, with the story focusing mainly on the life of Ned Hall, whose adolescence is stuck between to parental figures who are anything but shining examples of stability. His mother, a manic-depressive, is pushed to the breaking point by a love life that is constantly in a state of flux. His father is even worse, coming off like Sully from Nobody’s Fool with zero sympathy. He gambles, beats up his wife’s lawyer, and refuses to divorce is ailing wife, driving her to be committed to an insane asylum, with little remorse that is kind of forgiven through his self-awareness, but not really. Like all of Russo’s fiction, it is very light-hearted even if it shouldn’t be, and it is impossible not to fall in love with it somehow. But he can be a bit long-winded with his explanations of events. It was okay in Nobody’s Fool, but here, it gets really old and tarnishes the books. Still, this is a very fun and loving book by a writer who is never afraid to face the harshness of the world with a loud smile.