Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Book Review: "Everybody's Fool" by Richard Russo

Sequels make me nervous. If I'm reading books featuring a regular character or a planned series, that's one thing, but I always worry when an author releases a follow-up, particularly if it's a book I loved. And when the sequel comes a long time after the original, I'm even more wary, because I can't help but wonder if the author will be able to capture the same magic they did originally.

Needless to say, I had a lot of trepidation when I heard that Richard Russo had written a sequel to Nobody's Fool 23 years after the original was published. Not only is that one of my favorite books, but the 1994 film adaptation starring Paul Newman is a favorite as well. I believe Russo is one of the most talented writers around, but would he be able to make us care about the irascible Donald "Sully" Sullivan once again?

Yep, he did.

In the years since Nobody's Fool, Sully has achieved financial stability for probably the first time in his life, but everything else is still kind of screwed up. He's been told by his doctors at the VA that he has maybe 1-2 years to live if he doesn't have a cardiac procedure done, although there's no guarantee he'd survive the procedure. While the affair between him and Ruth, the married woman he has been carrying on with for years, has ended, they've maintained an easy companionship—until suddenly she doesn't want him around anymore. His son, Peter, is getting ready to move away once Sully's grandson goes to college, and Sully doesn't want to admit how much he'll miss him. And Rub, Sully's best friend and favorite object of his torment and teasing, is a little needier than usual lately.

But Sully isn't the only focus of Everybody's Fool, as he was in the first book. In fact, he takes a bit of a back seat to a host of other characters, particularly beleaguered police chief Doug Raymer, who is trying to figure out the identity of the man his wife was about to leave him for when she died in a freak accident, and just can't seem to catch a break otherwise; Mayor Gus Moynihan, whose plans for the city of North Bath don't seem to be coming to fruition, much like everything else in his life; Ruth, who is having trouble dealing with all of the people in her life—Sully, her husband, her daughter, and her ex-con son-in-law, who has just been released from prison yet again; and Sully's one-time nemesis, Carl Roebuck, who seems to be doing a good job of ruining himself.

Russo is in peak form as he navigates these stories, once again creating memorable, flawed characters you cannot get out of your mind. While I wish the book had spent more time on Sully again, as I believe he is the most interesting character of all, I didn't feel as if the book lost any strength when telling others' stories. These are funny, charming, sensitive, and at times, emotional people and their interactions with one another ignite the book like little firecrackers.

Everybody's Fool is the story of friendship, love, loss, fear, strength, and weakness. It's certainly a reflection on growing older and figuring out just what mark you're going to leave on the world, as well as the desire (at least in some) to correct the course their lives are on before it's too late. It's also a story of how we're haunted by the things we didn't do or say sometimes more than those we did.

Richard Russo once again proves he is a writer to be reckoned with, and a storyteller on a different plane from most of his contemporaries. He is a chronicler of the foibles and follies of the human spirit, and does so with humor and heart. While this book doesn't quite match Nobody's Fool, it's still pretty darned good. And now I wait for his next book...

1 comment:

  1. Well, heck! I'm reading this now and I am really enjoying the character development. I had absolutely no idea that this is a sequel. Oh well. I'm glad you enjoyed it as our tastes are very similar, so I know it's worth my time.