Back to North Bath, NY

Everybody’s Fool

By Richard Russo

Here’s the thing about Richard Russo: the guy doesn’t know how to write a bad anything. Few writing today can surpass his vision, his clarity, his connection with geography, characters, and with his readers. He truly is the superior chronicler of Americana as lived in the smaller backwaters of this country, as anybody hailing from one of those backwaters, especially from upstate New York, will attest. For many of us who grew up in places like North Bath, NY, and who knew characters like Sully, Rub, Carl, Raymer, and the dozens of others Russo infuses with life in Nobody’s Fool and now Everybody’s Fool, it’s like going home, and realizing again why you no longer live there.

Ten years later, Sully, now 70 and much worse for the wear, appears to be facing his final days on this earth. True to his nature, he remains at once very likable and provocatively irritating. This time around he finally has some money and a modicum of security, having been left an inheritance by Beryl Peoples, including the Peoples’s house. Sully chooses to live in a trailer behind the house. He rents to his foil and friend of sorts Carl Roebuck. Carl hasn’t fared as well as Sully financially and physically he laments the fading of his manhood due to the plague of many an aging fellow, prostate surgery. Rub Squeers continues, too, as Sully’s friend and workmate, wishing for more fatherly recognition from Sully, who treats Rub something like a dog: actually, like the dog always with Sully he has named Rub. Doug Raymer, known for being slugged by Sully and now police chief, becomes a main character, proving that even the insecure can wander into positions of importance, something he, as the “everybody’s fool” of the title, battles with over the Memorial Day timeframe of the novel. And Roy Purdy, a squirt and thug, who torments and beats the women around him, including those dear to Sully, is out of prison looking for revenge and proving himself quite loathsome.

Russo opens the novel with Raymer and others attending the funeral of a local judge. It’s the town of North Bath, in addition to the judge, that needs a funeral service. After the financial fiasco of the Ultimate Escape theme park, the town is even more forlorn and more envious of neighbor and prospering Schuyler Falls. Never fear, yet another harebrained scheme gets hatched, this time spelling doom for Carl Roebuck.

Filled with memorable characters and packed with some of the sharpest and wittiest dialogue around, it yet again stands as testament to Richard Russo’s skills, and even more, as a thoroughly absorbing and enjoyable reading experience. So, don’t miss it. w/c

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