Summary and book reviews of Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

Everybody's Fool

by Richard Russo

Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo X
Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2017, 528 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp

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About this Book

Book Summary

Richard Russo, at the very top of his game, now returns to North Bath, in upstate New York, and the characters who made Nobody's Fool (1993) a "confident, assured novel [that] sweeps the reader up," according to the San Francisco Chronicle back then. "Simple as family love, yet nearly as complicated." Or, as The Boston Globe put it, "a big, rambunctious novel with endless riffs and unstoppable human hopefulness."

The irresistible Sully, who in the intervening years has come by some unexpected good fortune, is staring down a VA cardiologist's estimate that he has only a year or two left, and it's hard work trying to keep this news from the most important people in his life: Ruth, the married woman he carried on with for years ... the ultra-hapless Rub Squeers, who worries that he and Sully aren't still best friends ... Sully's son and grandson, for whom he was mostly an absentee figure (and now a regretful one). We also enjoy the company of Doug Raymer, the chief of police who's obsessing primarily over the identity of the man his wife might've been about to run off with, before dying in a freak accident ... Bath's mayor, the former academic Gus Moynihan, whose wife problems are, if anything, even more pressing ... and then there's Carl Roebuck, whose lifelong run of failing upward might now come to ruin. And finally, there's Charice Bond - a light at the end of the tunnel that is Chief Raymer's office - as well as her brother, Jerome, who might well be the train barreling into the station.

Everybody's Fool is filled with humor, heart, hard times and people you can't help but love, possibly because their various faults make them so stridently human. This is classic Russo - and a crowning achievement from one of the greatest storytellers of our time.

Triangle

Hilldale cemetery in North Bath was cleaved right down the middle, its Hill and Dale sections divided by a two-­lane macadam road, originally a colonial cart path. Death was not a thing unknown to the town's first hearty residents, but they seemed to have badly misjudged how much of it there'd be, how much ground would be needed to accommodate those lost to harsh winters, violent encounters with savages and all manner of illness. Or was it life, their own fecundity, they'd miscalculated? Ironically, it amounted to the same thing. The plot of land set aside on the outskirts of town became crowded, then overcrowded, then chock-­full, until finally the dead broke containment, spilling across the now-­paved road onto the barren flats and reaching as far as the new highway spur that led to the interstate. Where they'd head next was anybody's guess.

Though blighted by Dutch elm disease in the '70s and more recently by a mold that attacked...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may 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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Despite the heavy focus on characters, the plot is rich and varied, with plenty of action, 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).

Full Review (659 words).

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Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
Elegiac but never sentimental. . . . Russo’s compassionate heart is open to the sorrows, and yes, the foolishness of this lonely world, but also the humor, friendship and love that abide.

Entertainment Weekly
For fans who’ve missed Sully and the gang, Everybody’s Fool is like hopping on the last empty barstool surrounded by old friends.

Wall Street Journal
A madcap romp, weaving mystery, suspense and comedy in a race to the final pages.

The New York Times
A delightful return . . . to a town where dishonesty abounds, everyone misapprehends everyone else and half the citizens are half-crazy. It’s a great place for a reader to visit, and it seems to be Russo’s spiritual home

The Washington Post
How could twenty-three years have slipped by since Nobody’s Fool? . . . Russo is probably the best writer of physical comedy that we have [but] even the zaniest elements of the story are interspersed with episodes of wincing cruelty. . . . North Bath is a sleepy little town that never sleeps [and] no tangent ever feels tangential.

Tampa Bay Times
I was holding my breath for fear Everybody's Fool wouldn’t live up to its predecessor, but I shouldn't have worried . . . This book’s tone is largely comic, but Russo writes with uncommon insight about love, families and friendship.

Publishers Weekly
The give-and-take of rude but funny dialogue is Russo's trademark, as is his empathy for down-and-outers on the verge of financial calamity. He takes a few false steps, such as giving Raymer a little voice in his head named Dougie, but clever plot twists end the novel on lighthearted note.

Library Journal
Cause for celebration . . . writing that reflects [Russo’s] deep affection for the quotidian and for the best and worst that’s found in every human heart.

Booklist
Starred Review. Triumphant... Russo's reunion with these beloved characters is genius: silly slapstick and sardonic humor play out in a rambling, rambunctious story that poignantly emphasizes that particular brand of loyalty and acceptance that is synonymous with small-town living.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Russo hits his trademark trifecta: satisfying, hilarious, and painlessly profound.

Reader Reviews

Bob Barton

Life in Full
Russo's empathetic story of life in hard-luck Bath shows that, no matter our station in life, opportunities to show generosity of heart are there every day. Poignant but never sad, Russo's cast of characters try to get out of their own way, but in ...   Read More

Louis

Did not care for the plot(s) or characters.
Too unstructured, and I did not care about any of the characters. Written well, but plot(s) not engaging.

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Beyond the Book

The Exotic Animal Trade

One of the side plots of Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo involves a town outsider illegally dealing in dangerous exotic reptiles. He rents an inexpensive apartment and hires one of the local residents to stay there during the day in order to receive packages, often marked as "perishable." The boxes are stored either in a highly air-conditioned bedroom or the refrigerator. The cool conditions keep the reptiles in a dormant hibernating state until they can be handled. Due to a culmination of events spurred by a massive heat wave, a venomous cobra escapes and requires the apartment complex to be evacuated.

The exotic animal trade — peddles large cats, primates, birds, and even bears, in addition to reptiles — is a ...

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