Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A follow-up on his 1993 novel Nobody’s Fool, this novel picks up the stories of Sully, Carl Roebuck, Ruth, Rub, Doug Raymer and others. While a critical character, Sully, the protagonist of the earlier novel, is now a lesser character while Police Chief Raymer takes the lead – as everybody’s fool.
This novel opens in a cemetery and the dead keep popping up figuratively as well as literally. With that opening I figured Sully would be dead by the end of the novel and we see two reasons why that might happen. In the words of Muddy Waters, I Can’t Be Satisfied. Back in the 80’s I stopped reading fiction for a few years because of Thomas McGuane’s Ninety-Two in the Shade and Jay Mcinerney’s Ransom which I read back-to-back. After too long of stories the protagonists die in violent and almost anti-climatic fashion making me wonder what was the point. This novel ends on a much happier note. [How’s that 3 spoilers in one review!] Nevertheless, I felt like all the loose ends tied up a bit quickly and neatly.
Sully and Raymer are two different kinds of screw-ups. They are unable to meet the needs and expectations of the women (or of anyone) they know. Recounting Sully’s visit with Mrs. Peoples as he left for the army for WWII we are told “women in general and this one in particular wanted not just everything you had but also, and especially, what you didn’t have and never would. And in return they’d offer what you didn’t want or had no use for or, even worse, was good for you.”[p 397] And Sully just never lived up to – or accepted – that burden. “Had it been selfish of him to make sure that his destination at the end of the day was a barstool among men who, like himself,had chosen to be faithful to what they took to be their own natures, when instead they might have been faithful to their families or to convention or even to their own early promise?” [p 446]
Likewise, Raymer reflects on Mrs Peoples’ prodding the wayward student. As the events of the story unfold, he came to understand “that it was a shame, indeed a crying shame, though probably not a crime, to be unequal to the most important tasks you’re given.That was true of just about everyone Raymer knew, including himself.”]p 455
Nevertheless, they both the characters grow in the span of the novel – which takes place in less than a week. In fact, Sully did what he did not do in Nobody’s Fool: apologize. “‘I’m sorry I’ve been so…,’ he began, then stopped. ‘I’m sorry I made you worry about me…”[p 465]
There are two real joys in this novel. First, it is great to see the the comparison of Sully and Raymer as the story progresses. They have known each other since they were kids and Sully had been a thorn in Raymer’s side for much of his life – as we saw in Nobody’s Fool. Second, the action sequences that make up the last 2/3 of the book are riveting. I could not put it down. We have a real evil character in Roy Purdy and reading those passages was hard but gripping.
Along the way we get Russo’s exquisite writing and a cast of characters that jump off the page. All in all, I like this ending better than those two novels I read in the 80s. While Everybody’s Fool may not be perfect, it is pretty dang good.