STARRED REVIEW
May 03, 2016

A tragicomic take on the human condition

By Richard Russo
Twenty-three years after creating the benighted town of North Bath, New York in his novel Nobody's Fool, Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Russo (Empire Falls) invites readers back.
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Twenty-three years after creating the benighted town of North Bath, New York in his novel Nobody's Fool, Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Russo (Empire Falls) invites readers back to find that while the lot of most of the town's inhabitants hasn't improved much, their lives and loves provide ample fodder for a fresh tragicomic encounter with the human condition.

Everybody's Fool unfolds over a steamy Memorial Day weekend that begins with the funeral of Judge Barton Flatt—an event that's marred by police chief Douglas Raymer's tumble into the open grave—and includes murder, savage beatings, the escape of poisonous snakes, lightning strikes and a couple of nervous breakdowns.

As in its predecessor, in the heart of this chaos is the roguish Donald "Sully" Sullivan, whose fortunes have improved after he inherits the home of the town's former eighth grade English teacher, but who still spends most of his days at a local lunch counter or at one of North Bath's downmarket taverns. Sharing center stage with him this time is Chief Raymer, still in mourning over the death of his wife a year earlier in a bizarre accident on the day she planned to leave him for her lover. The return of Roy Purdy, a recidivist burglar and thug who is the ex-son-in-law of Sully's former lover Ruth, darkens the story and generates most of the action that drives it forward.

For all of Russo's deft comic sensibility and the occasionally antic quality of the novel's plot, he successfully sidesteps the trap of slapstick humor. Instead, whether it's Chief Raymer's obsession with a garage door opener he believes will reveal the identity of his wife's lover, or Sully's encounter with mortality as he realizes the two years he's been given by a VA cardiologist are "probably closer to one," Russo is more intent on placing the interior lives of these characters under a microscope than he is in making sport of their obvious flaws. And with all its frustrated dreams of development, Russo makes it clear that foul-smelling North Bath, like hundreds of small towns across America, is destined for a sad fate.

Everybody's Fool is an old-fashioned novel in the best sense of that word, inviting readers to slip comfortably between its covers knowing they're in the hands of a writer who understands the foibles of human nature and can plumb its dark corners with empathy, understanding and wit.

 

RELATED CONTENT: Read our Q&A with Richard Russo about Everybody's Fool. 

 

 

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Everybody’s Fool

Everybody’s Fool

By Richard Russo
Knopf
ISBN 9780307270641

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