Richard Russo,
Nobody's Fool
(Random House, 1993)

Nobody's Fool marks my fourth go-around with Richard Russo. Like the books I've read by him before, it mainly focuses on small-town life and one man's personal struggles within that world. Though his problems appear small, Russo has a way of turning them into even bigger deals, with the stakes significantly increased.

The central character this time is Donald Sullivan -- though most people call him Sully. He's got a bum leg and makes a living fixing up houses with his partner in crime, Rub Squeers. This is, of course, when he finds the time to work. Usually he's downing brewskis at the local watering hole, spending money he doesn't have on horse races or at the poker table, terrorizing his number one client, Carl Roebuck, and being his general asshole self that seems to annoy the greater majority of the people inhabiting the fictional town of Bath, New York.

But at heart, Sully is a decent guy. He makes good on his promises and really wants to start being the father he never was for his only son, Peter, who reunites with his dad a few days before Thanksgiving with the news that his family, not to mention Sully's ex-wife, would like to see him over the holiday. By the end of the book, which more or less takes place between Thanksgiving and New Year's, Sully must figure out his feelings for Carl's wife, Toby, find repair work in a depressed town like Bath, move out of his home due to the family of the woman living downstairs and other issues.

Russo has a knack for adorning his stories with colorful characters, and the ones in Nobody's Fool are no exception. Sully, in fact, is perhaps my favorite lead character of his that I've read up to this point. He's funny, he's sweet and seems to be aware of and in control of a lot more than people give him credit for. His antics about the town never ceased to amuse me.

But for all the good I found in the novel, there is a little bit of bad as well -- the most important of which would be the first 100 pages or so. It's dry, slow material that actually made me stop reading altogether. (This surprised me to no end, given how I've always enjoyed Russo's writing and consider him one of my favorite authors). But after putting the book down for a bit and speeding through a few other novels on my list, I returned to the part I left off at and was able to breeze through the final 450 pages or so without problems. It's as if the book suffers from an extended introduction, with not much happening for the longest time. But then the narrative finally sets in and we're good to go.

Russo's next book will involve the characters of Nobody's Fool. Not much is known about the project, but it nevertheless is something I look forward to. If published, the book will be Russo's first attempt at penning a sequel.

review by
Eric Hughes

28 March 2009

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