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Reading guide for 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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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Evaluate the title of the book. Who do you believe the title is referencing? Is the foolishness of the title character—or characters—something determined by public opinion or something revealed via a process of self-reflection? Explain. What causes the character(s) to act foolishly or otherwise be perceived as foolish?
  2. Analyze the setting of the book. How does the author characterize North Bath? How does North Bath compare with its neighboring town Schuyler Springs? What factors have contributed to the condition of North Bath? How does the economic and aesthetic state of the town affect its residents?
  3. Everybody's Fool opens with a description of the local cemetery. How might the cemetery and its present condition function as symbolism? What might the uprooted tree and coffins represent? Why do you think that Russo chose to begin the story with this imagery of the divided and overflowing cemetery?
  4. Evaluate the themes of fortune and luck. How much are the characters' lives shaped by luck? Do they have any control over their fate? If so, where is this evident? Why does Gus think that the townspeople of North Bath are determined to believe in the idea of luck and fortune? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
  5. At the start of the book, Raymer notes that he has always been "vulnerable to the judgments of others" (16), so much so that he actually becomes whatever people call him. Is he ever able to overcome this problem? What other characters in the novel are influenced by the judgments of others? Are the judgments a primarily positive or negative influence?
  6. In the chapter entitled "Slinky," Raymer indicates that he prefers order, but says that generally "humans preferred to meander" (67). What does he mean by this? Does the novel ultimately seem to support or refute his claim? Explain.
  7. Is there an identifiable protagonist or antagonist in the book or a sense of "good" and "bad" characters, or do the characters offer a more complicated and nuanced view of humanity and human nature? Does any single point of view overshadow the rest? Which of the characters do you feel most sympathetic toward and why? Who do you find the most disagreeable and how does the author elicit this response? Does your perception of any one of the characters change substantially over the course of the novel? If so, which character and how?
  8. Consider the various relationships depicted in the book. Do the characters in North Bath share a strong bond with one another? If so, what unites them? Alternatively, why do you think that so many of the characters are entangled in or just out of broken relationships, and how have they been affected by these relationships? What seems to prevent the characters from having healthier and stronger relationships?
  9. Why do you believe that the author incorporates elements of comedy and the absurd in the novel? How did these elements influence and shape your interpretation of the novel and your response to its characters? For instance, does the use of comedy make you feel more or less sympathetic to the characters and their plight? Explain.
  10. Many of the characters in the book are aging and are faced with their morality. How does this affect their actions and the way they choose to live? What questions arise as a result of their awareness of their limited time? What answers to these questions do they arrive at? Do these aging characters seem to become wiser with age?
  11. How does Russo portray the aging process? Do the older characters age gracefully and with dignity? Do they seem to have control over this process and how they handle it? Discuss.
  12. How do the characters use fantasy to escape their present condition? What examples of this are found in the novel? Does this kind of escapism prove to be an effective or destructive means of coping?
  13. Why did Gus wish to be mayor of North Bath? What did he hope to accomplish in this position? What obstacles does he face as he attempts to accomplish this? Is he ultimately successful? Why or why not?
  14. Evaluate the theme of complicity. Which of the characters believe they have been complicit and why do they believe this? Do you agree? Explain. Where else in the novel do we see complicity at work? What do you think causes the characters to be complicit and what are the consequences?
  15. In the chapter entitled "Grave Doings," Carl asks what men are even good for. Sully admits that this is a question he has avoided asking himself his entire life. Does the novel ever answer this question? Why might the characters be so determined to avoid it?
  16. Explore the theme of legacy. How do characters who are deceased or who are referenced indirectly in the story influence the main characters of the book? Consider, for example, Miss Beryl, Rub's parents, Becka, or Judge Flatt. How do they continue to have an impact on the lives of others and affect the community even in their absence? What might this indicate about the power of an individual, the weight of one's actions, and the value of a single human life?
  17. Evaluate the treatment of prejudice and race in the book. Why is Miller hesitant to ask out Charice? Why does Raymer feel like a fool when Charice tells him what she plans to make him for dinner? How do the people of Bath treat Jerome? Are the residents of North Bath primarily an accepting people?
  18. Consider the treatment of women. What do the female characters seem to share in common? How are they treated by the men in the novel? How do the women view themselves? What do their stories, when considered collectively, reveal about sexuality and womanhood?
  19. Russo named one of the chapters "Secrets". What secrets do the characters in the novel keep? Do any of the characters ultimately choose to reveal their secrets? If so, what motivates them and what happens when they do? What might this indicate about truth telling or about shared experience?
  20. Is there any evidence of a system of justice in the world the characters inhabit? Explain. If you believe that there is, does the book seem to suggest that justice is something dealt by an outside force such as karma, God, or fate, or is it something that must be dealt by humankind? What injustices are presented in the novel? Do you believe that they could have been prevented or otherwise addressed? If so, how?
  21. Why didn't Miss Beryl want Sully to enlist in the army? What does she think young people are always being asked to risk? Do you agree with her? Can readers tell how the veterans in the story have been affected or changed by their service?
  22. Evaluate the theme of forgiveness. What examples of forgiveness, if any, are evident in the book? What causes the characters to reach a place of forgiveness—or to be unable to forgive? What does Miss Beryl think is the real reason that people forgive others? What does the book suggest about self-forgiveness?
  23. Compare Everybody's Fool with Russo's 1993 novel Nobody's Fool. What themes does Russo revisit in Everybody's Fool? Who are some of the recurring characters and how have they changed or remained the same between books? What do you think the books offer collectively that they do not or cannot offer when considered singularly?
Suggested Reading
Franzen, Jonathan. The Corrections
Jen, Gish. World and Town
Joyce, Eddie. Small Mercies
Perrotta, Tom. Little Children
Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead
Rowling, J. K. The Casual Vacancy
Russo, Richard. Nobody's Fool
Strout, Elizabeth. Olive Kitteridge
Updike, John. Rabbit, Run
Yates, Richard. Revolutionary Road

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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