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Likely Stories: Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

A large cast of characters try to survive in a “rust-belt” town in New York.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Richard Russo has penned another novel which adds to the ten excellent books in his portfolio.  His latest, Everybody’s Fool, is a sequel to Nobody’s Fool.  For this new novel he returns to the town Old Bath in upstate New York.  Lots of familiar characters have aged since then – some gracefully, others not so much – and of course, the competition with the nearby town of Schuyler Springs continues, even though Old Bath is lagging further and further behind.  Sully, Miss Beryl, the English teacher, Clive, Carl, Rub, Clarice, and Bootsie are all welcome parts of his eleventh novel.

Russo is a novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, and teacher.  He was born in Johnstown, NY in 1949.  Nobody’s Fool has made its way to the big screen, and I suspect Everybody’s Fool might follow that same path.  My favorite of his novels is Straight Man, and I would surely love to see it come to film.

One of the more interesting characters is Sully.  He served, and was wounded, in World War II.  Russo writes, “…he hadn’t been sure then and still wasn’t now, even after the VA diagnosis.  Had he gotten off easy?  During the war he’d somehow managed to be standing in the exact right place while more talented men and better soldiers happened to be standing in the exact wrong one.  Often, that was right next to Sully.  For a while there on Omaha Beach there’d been a new, utterly lethal lottery every few seconds.  Through diligence and judgment and skill you could improve your odds of survival, but not by much.  All the way to Berlin, the calculus of pure dumb luck had ruled, Sully its undeniable beneficiary. // But that had been war.  When the shooting finally stopped and the world returned to something like sanity and he again had the leisure to reflect, things felt different” (58).  The boom which followed the end of the war never quite made it to Old Bath. 

Another interesting character is Chief of Police Raymer.  He has recently lost his wife to cancer, and he wallows in self-pity.  Russo writes, “Raymer recognized Rub Squeers, Sully’s sidekick, sitting in the small patch of shade […].  Something about his posture suggested that he was weeping.  Could he be?  Was he, too remembering a loved one buried nearby?  Was he too, yearning for a new life, a new line of work?  Maybe he’d like to swap jobs, Raymer thought, because digging graves, compared with law enforcement, would be both peaceful and rewarding.  The dead were past being troubled by the world’s injustice.  Nor did they resist order.  You could lay them out on a grid by the thousands without a single complaint.  Try that on the living and see where it got you” (67).  I don’t want to give the impression this novel is morbid.  Plenty of humorous moments occur, along with some suspense, while Raymer tries to track down an ex-convict bent on revenge with a hit list.

I read Nobody’s Fool in the 90s, and found Everybody’s Fool even better.  I think it might be interesting to re-read these two novels one after the other for a more complete picture of Old Bath and Richard Russo’s outstanding talent as a novelist.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  You can read more at  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.