Richard Russo’s most recent novel, “Everybody’s Fool,” was just released. It is a sequel to a book he published in 1993 called “Nobody’s Fool”. I thought I should read Nobody’s Fool before I read Everybody’s Fool and so this is my review of Nobody’s Fool.
In Nobody’s Fool, the main character, Donald Sullivan (Sully) is a 60-year-old juvenile, haunted by his father’s memory and limited by his own self-destructive behavior. Sully lives in the upstairs flat of the home owned by his retired 80 year old 8th grade teacher, Beryl Peoples. Beryl spends much of her time talking to a picture of her deceased husband and to an African spirit mask she picked up on her travels. She spends her remaining time pondering her lack of maternal love for her banker son Clive Jr, whom she describes as a cynical optimist, and her indifference toward her best friend Mrs. Gruber. Clive Jr spends most of his time focused on the development and promotion of an amusement park, trying to convince his mother of the virtues of his unlikeable fiancée and the removal of Sully from his mother’s life.
Throughout the book Sully is working with his lawyer, Wirf, who is also Beryl’s lawyer, trying to obtain disability benefits for a knee injury. Wirf is an interesting character who seems to spend most of his time drinking excessively and whom Beryl describes as “not so much incompetent as unambitious, a character trait almost impossible to find in a lawyer.”
Sully’s life story is best described as a series of character flaws. His romantic entanglement of almost 20 years involves a married woman who likes to pretend that her daughter with her husband is actually Sully’s daughter. He works for the community’s relatively well to do but sleazy contractor while obsessing over the contractor’s beautiful wife, stealing his snow blower and automobile and shortchanging his projects. In exchange, the contractor refuses to pay him for certain projects, constantly insults him and yet they spend a lot of time together and have an inexplicably codependent relationship. Sully spends a great deal of his time drinking and brawling.
Sully has a best friend who can only be described as smelly and pathetic and whom Sully treats as poorly as a person could treat someone he or she calls a friend. Sully’s long estranged PhD educated, professor son, Peter returns into his life. Peter has failed to get tenure, has no job and as a result of an extramarital affair and pending divorce, finds himself estranged from two of his three children, turning out to be more like Sully than anyone, particularly his mother (Sully’s ex-wife) could have believed possible. This commonality with Sully causes his ex-wife such great distress that she literally has a nervous breakdown. Even Sully is concerned about his son, musing that “his momentary pride in Peter’s accomplishments had leaked away into serious misgivings about his character.”
Overshadowing all of the story is Sully’s obsession with his long deceased violent father and his difficult childhood. As people grow old, die and evolve throughout the story, Sully’s reaction is befuddlement. “As always, to Sully, the deepest of life’s mysteries were the mysteries of his own behavior.”
I am a Richard Russo fan but I have to say that I was disappointed with Nobody’s Fool. It is well written and it is a well thought out story with very little depth, absolutely no subtlety and left me feeling empty. I suspect that the best part of Nobody’s Fool was the 1994 movie starring Paul Newman (the movie had to be great- it starred Paul Newman!!) I am hoping for more out of “Everybody’s Fool” and you will be the first to know what I think! If you want to read “Nobody’s Fool” you can reserve it from the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/mobile/record/C__Rb10280791__SNobody%27s%20fool__P0%2C2__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=mobile