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Thread: Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

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    Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

    Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 477 pages.


    Richard Russo might be called the Bard of upstate New York not only for the frequency with which he returns to that region but for how well he knows the natives. There is a definite crick in their neck of the woods.

    This latest offering takes place where a previous Russo novel, Nobody’s Fool, leaves off: in North Bath, close geographically but starkly separated from its gentrified neighbor, Schuyler Springs. With such a civic inferiority complex, North Bath’s inhabitants, like Raymond Carver characters, attempt to cope with life’s proverbial ups and downs, in this case mainly downs.

    Returning is “Nobody’s fool “ himself, Sully, rough-hewn, unpretentious, and endearing. With the infusion of a modest inheritance, his money troubles have lessened but the prognosis for his health is not good, and he’s conflicted about ending a long-term love affair. North Bath’s chief of police Doug Raymer is in no better shape; as a relatively recent widower he is obsessed with – of all things - an electronic garage door opener, the key with which he hopes as well as dreads to unlock an agonizing secret.

    Along with the main duo are finely-drawn folks, including Sully’s less-than-gifted companion, Rub (incidentally the name of a pitiful pooch); their occasional employer, the corner-cutting unsuccessful developer, Carl; and Ruth, Sully’s paramour, a no-nonsense female with her own slate of family problems.

    Another strong woman comes in the form of Raymer’s assistant, Charice. Their budding romantic relationship comes upon unexpected roadblocks, such as a dramatic change in Charice’s charming brother, Jerome, a rising professional in the more prosperous town. A chilling presence in the plot comes in the form of Roy Purdy, an unredeemable ex-con whose violence slashes across the latter pages of the novel like a scythe. This represents one of Russo’s frequent themes, domestic violence, a term to which Sully and company would undoubtedly refer as “wife beating.”

    Although the second-tier characters are well-rounded, integral components of the plot, at some point the reader wonders if Russo might be hoisting too many balls in the air at once (although expertly juggled.) The subplot involving the town’s mayor Gus and his evidently demented wife, Alice, is intriguing, especially with the flashback showing Gus’s predecessor, Kurt, a “Talented Mr. Ripley” type of manipulator. There could be much to mine in that plot of gold, perhaps another spin-off book.

    The summary thus far may make it appear that Everybody’s Fool is a sobfest, an emotional masochist’s dream come true. Not at all! Russo’s sense of humor is similar to that of a fellow upstate New Yorker, Donald E. Westlake, with an extra dash of poignancy thrown in. In his review of Everybody’s Fool, the contemporary novelist T.C. Boyle cites Russo’s comic perspective and ranks Straight Man (1997)among the finest satires of academia, such as Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Everybody’s Fool doesn’t offer quite as many laugh aloud jokes as the earlier book, but you can bet there are more than a few amusing passages.

    As truthfully stated by actual critics, Russo’s talent is in the ability to know his characters inside and out, right down to what cable news pundits like to call the “granular” level. The prose reflects this in that the narration takes on the voice and vocabulary of the character described at the moment. It’s mostly seamless, yet at times appears hard to pull off, such as with the inner dialogue between Raymer and an alter ego, “Dougie.”

    Another minor quibble arises with the verbal anachronisms here and there, catch phrases circa 2016, such as “default mode,” and “throwing someone under the bus.” Since Sully is a World War II veteran, we know the novel’s set in a somewhat earlier era. Sully is not a nonagenarian, at least not yet.

    Everybody’s Fool isn’t in my ever increasingly humble opinion Russo’s best book, and neither is his Pulitzer Prize winning Empire Falls. His masterpiece is Bridge of Sighs (2007), such a stunning work of art that I sometimes still think of scenes from that novel in the near decade since I’ve read it.

    Still, I would highly recommend that “everybody” read Everybody’s Fool, eminently entertaining as well as presenting a literary experience hard to come by these days– a satisfying ending.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 06-26-2017 at 06:09 PM.

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