Richard Russo’s “Everybody’s Fool” is a rollicking and heartfelt return to the beat-up milltown in upstate New York that was the setting for Russo’s classic “Nobody’s Fool.” He appears Tuesday, June 7, at Town Hall Seattle.
by Richard Russo
Knopf, 496 pp., $27.95
Richard Russo can’t stop going back to Gloversville, the beat-up mill town in upstate New York “that’s easy to joke about unless you live there.”
Russo called Gloversville by its own name in his memoir “Elsewhere,” and in his novels has called it Mohawk and Empire Falls and Thomaston and now North Bath. He’s always called it home, even though he left Gloversville for college and never came back, not to live, anyway. He carries it in his heart and keeps it at his fingertips, the place where after the glove factories closed “you could have strafed Main Street with an automatic weapon without endangering a soul.”
No souls are endangered in “Everybody’s Fool,” Russo’s rollicking sequel to his 1993 hit “Nobody’s Fool.” A few have departed and a few more are in harm’s way, but even with all the grave-robbing and sewer-line exposing and poisonous-snake wrangling, nobody other than a minor character or two ends up with anything more than a heart condition or a puncture wound.
The author of “Everybody’s Fool” will appear at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 7, at Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Ave. Tickets are $33.78 and available at brownpapertickets.com. Each ticket admits up to two people and includes a copy of “Everybody’s Fool.” For more information call the University Book Store at 206-634-3400 or go to ubookstore.com.
“Nobody’s Fool” concluded with Donald “Sully” Sullivan asleep in his landlady’s Queen Anne, a dog at his feet and a new emotion, contentment, spreading through him. Paul Newman played Sully in the movie version, and played him so gracefully that it’s hard to read the new novel and not imagine Newman’s life-worn face and cigar-flavored growl.
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Sully is still making the rounds, from Hattie’s lunch counter to the Iron Horse tavern, but he’s mellower because of a bad heart and the contentment that’s carried across the decade from the end of “Nobody’s Fool” to the beginning of “Everybody’s Fool.” He’s not the title character this time; that unwanted honor goes to Douglas Raymer, the North Bath cop whose nose Sully broke in “Nobody’s Fool.”
Raymer (memorably played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie) has moved up the ladder to police chief without shaking the insecurities that tear at him from the inside. He married a woman whose beauty made him feel inadequate (which didn’t help) and who then died in a weird home accident as they were splitting up (which really didn’t help).
Now Raymer is left with nothing but memories and a garage-door remote that was left in his wife’s car. It doesn’t open his garage, which leads him to believe she was having an affair. Raymer puts his detective skills to use by walking up and down the street and pointing the remote at random garages. When Raymer faints, falls into an open grave and leaves the remote behind (long story), he enlists Sully, his former enemy, to help dig it up.
He’s a mess.
Russo unrolls that story with the leisurely good humor that is his greatest strength as a novelist. He puts his characters in motion — slow motion, it should be noted — and lets their foibles dictate their actions. The theme of Russo’s novels, in three words or less, is People are People. “Nobody’s Fool” might as well be titled “Nobody’s Perfect.” (The sequel would then be “That Means You, Too.”) The residents of North Bath fall down and get up, despite themselves, usually with the help of their neighbors.
It took me about 50 pages to get into Russo’s easy rhythm and shifting point of view. Once I did, about the time Raymer fainted into the grave, I was hooked.
“Everybody’s Fool” is a welcome return to North Bath, a place that by any name is worth an extended visit.