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BookBrowse Reviews Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

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Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

Everybody's Fool

by Richard Russo
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  • First Published:
  • May 3, 2016
  • Paperback:
  • Jan 2017
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Small-town America comes to life again in Richard Russo's latest novel set in upstate New York.

Written from multiple viewpoints, Everybody's Fool features an ensemble cast of inhabitants from Bath, New York, a small-town, working-class America setting that Richard Russo is best known for. The novel is a sequel to Nobody's Fool, published in 1993, which was made into a movie starring Paul Newman as the primary protagonist, Donald "Sully" Sullivan.

Stepping in and out of the lives of many characters, Everybody's Fool makes it easy to believe the saying, "everyone is the hero of his own story." The characters who narrate various chapters include the emotionally devastated and insecure police chief, Douglas Raymer, searching for the truth about his deceased wife's affair; the optimistic mayor, Gus Moynihan, hoping to heal his mentally ill wife — as well as his beloved town. Then there's Sully, an ordinary working-class hero with a run of bad luck, who can't quite grow up, despite reaching middle age. Sully, and his two best friends, slow-witted Rub, and town "con and asshole," Carl, each share their view of the world in turn. Even Roy Purdy, a sociopathic wife-beater has a chapter.

The story heavily represents the male perspective. We hear the viewpoint of only one woman, Ruth, with whom Sully has had an affair for years. Charice, a young police officer providing backup — both professionally and personally—to Chief Raymer, is a strong female African-American character, but is primarily seen through Raymer's addled eyes.

Everybody's Fool weaves many unrelated threads together: It opens with the burial service for a local judge, at which Chief Raymer is unwillingly in attendance. Due to excessive heat, and emotional distress, he faints, and falls in the hole dug for the casket. A manic journey follows with unexpected consequences for Raymer. Sully, keeping his recent grave medical diagnosis to himself, is facing his own mortality, and questioning his desire to live. Providing additional backdrop, a construction project renovating an old mill area, causes an environmental crisis, and a dangerous cobra is loose in town, revealing the presence of an illegal underground exotic reptile dealer (see 'Beyond the Book').

The members of this fictional town are complex and layered, authentically flawed, and with goals and obstacles. Although the entire story takes place over only two days, relationships are tested, hearts are broken and healed, and lives are irrevocably changed. Each character has moments of redemption and of hitting rock bottom. Over and over again, they manage to lift one another up, and support each other in some way.

The interconnected story threads lend the feeling of hanging out in the neighborhood bar, listening to local stories. It's the kind of community where everyone knows each other's business. Sometimes the characters simply look the other way, but when times turn tough, they help each other out.

I have not read the earlier Nobody's Fool, and although this one made me curious to do so, I never felt lost or confused not having it to introduce me to the rich and complex world. At times, the story has a cinematic feel. When the point of view switches between characters, it feels like a shift in camera perspective. We zoom in on a new character, but the others are still present, in the background, connecting and interacting with one another as the hours pass. The antics and plot have a madcap (almost slapstick) feel at times.

Russo writes about heavy themes in an organic manner. Mental illness is explored alongside alcoholism, infidelity, race and class struggles, domestic abuse, and most prevalently, the effects of aging and facing one's own mortality. Russo does not preach on a soapbox or provide easy answers; he simply acknowledges these issues exist and are a part of many — if not all — communities.

Despite the heavy focus on characters, the plot is rich and varied, with plenty of suspense and surprise twists. A mixture of manic action and introspective reflection, with a hint of a love story, Everybody's Fool has something for everybody.

Reviewed by Sarah Tomp

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in June 2016, and has been updated for the February 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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