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Straight Man by Richard Russo
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Straight Man (1997)

by Richard Russo

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,531722,387 (4.07)106
  1. 41
    Small World by David Lodge (browner56)
    browner56: Very funny treatments of academic life from different sides of the Atlantic Ocean
  2. 10
    Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith (goose114)
    goose114: Another story of academia with a witty sense of humor.
  3. 10
    Moo by Jane Smiley (wademlee)
    wademlee: Academic satire, humorous & outrageous. Those in Academe will recognize themselves or their colleagues.
  4. 00
    Back in the Game by Charles Holdefer (hairball)
    hairball: Straight Man is what Back in the Game should be.
  5. 11
    Changing Places by David Lodge (BeckyJG)
  6. 00
    The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter (BeckyJG)
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» See also 106 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
I must admit, I do enjoy a good campus novel and when I heard about Straight Man by Richard Russo I knew I had to read it as soon as I could. The story spouted from a real life situation Richard Russo had teaching at a small State University. Having made friends with the Dean of the university he found himself in a conversation about the budget. Year after year, the same thing happened and while walking past a duck pond the Dean jokingly complained that he would have to threaten to kill a duck a day until he got his budget. This ended up being the basis of not only the main character from Straight Man but the birth of the novel.

The novel tells the story of an English professor, William Henry Devereaux, Jr. at a fictional Pennsylvania University. He has been appointed as the interim chairman of the English department and once again the administration of the university has not provided a budget yet. William is also enjoying a midlife crisis and the complacency of being a tenure professor which gives us a sharp, witty and satirical look at college life.

You know what they say; ‘Everyone has a book in them’, and an English professor is more likely to know the pains of writing. For William, he has already enjoyed a brief brush with success when he released his fast forgotten novel. Despite his abilities, he will always remain in the shadows of his father; a far more popular and successful writer and professor. This creates a volatile mix of emotions and frustration for this character and the results play out wonderfully with Straight Man.

I was pleasantly surprised just how satirical this novel turned out, often humour was delivered in a number of different ways. From the outlandish situation, to dry deadpan deliveries and self-deprecation; these combinations worked well with the character and the novel itself. However behind the humour is the brutal truth of the bureaucratically nightmare an academic department faces year after year.

Ultimately what impressed me the most with this novel was the way Richard Russo managed to balance everything perfectly. He had a good sense of comedic timing and knows when to hold back or push forward. Yet he also knew how to sneak in some heavy themes without destroying the light hearted manner of the delivery. Above all, he has able to write great prose that showed beauty and tenderness as well as bitterness and comedy. It must have been difficult to balance everything but the execution made it look easy.

This review originally appeared on my blog: http://literary-exploration.com/2014/09/26/straight-man-by-richard-russo/ ( )
  knowledge_lost | Dec 8, 2014 |
Audo. In translation. Very boring. Read books like these in the 70s - and they have not been improved on. ( )
  Pears | Nov 19, 2014 |
Why did I wait so long to get to this novel by one of my favorite authors? Howlingly funny satire of academia and, simultaneously, the age-old curse of a son trying to live up to or live down the burden of a father’s fame and repute.

This is a wide-ranging novel that explores the mid-life crisis, professional headaches, personal angst, and antipathy to geese of one Railton, PA resident and academician, William Henry Devereaux Jr. He can never let slip an opportunity to make a quick comeback, to shaft authority in acts of rather juvenile rebelliousness, and to thwart expectations. WHD, Jr. is haunted by his philandering father’s (who remains offstage almost the entire novel) greater reputation. ''When all is said and done, I'm an English professor, like my father. The most striking difference between him and me is that he's been a successful one.''

Don’t look for plot here. Look for trenchant wit, ambling prose, true voices, and a cast of screwballs that make one tremble for higher education. The question is, can WHD, Jr. find peace, save his daughter’s marriage -- and preserve his own, fulfill (by avoidance) his academic ambitions, escape his enemies and his superiors’ designs on him, all while remaining true to himself and not changing too much so that he becomes a colorless drone? Happily, the answer is, "Yes!"

Russo hasn’t written a funnier and simultaneously more poignant book (or I have yet to read it) that explores his favorite theme of father/son relationships. If you've been to college or work in one you will delight in this spoof of ivy-covered ivory towers and the personalities that are found in them. ( )
  Limelite | Mar 9, 2014 |
A light and easy read that's amusing enough, at times, to get an audible laugh. The book loses a little of its charms and whimsy in the second half, but none of its insight. The ending is a little quaint and attempts to show growth and character progression where I neither wanted nor needed it. ( )
  pritckat | Dec 27, 2013 |
Nice fun read.....several laugh out loud moments for me. Just another seemingly normal guy caught up in the antics of a paranoid small-town University English Department, of which he finds himself temporary head, going through a difficult time. He is sort of a spontaneous, shoot from the hip sort of fella, and it is a style that does not always serve him well....Yet there is this optimistic attitude that he has that permeates the whole book that saves him......he accepts that it really does not matter what he does.......things will resolve and work out.....maybe even for the better. I found the ending a wee bit long and drawn out and it sort of killed the momentum that was sailing along quite nicely before.....but that is my only complaint. Special kudos to his creation of Mr. Purty, who definitely was my favorite character....I've known several Mr. Purtys in my life and i am thankful to have one so brilliantly captured in this book......I've enjoyed every one of my 4 Russos so far and will eagerly look forward to the next. ( )
  jeffome | Dec 10, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Richard Russoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Freed, SamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375701907, Paperback)

First Jane Smiley came out of the comedy closet with Moo, a campus satire par excellence, and now Richard Russo has gotten in on the groves-of-academe game. Straight Man is hilarious sport, with a serious side. William Henry Devereaux Jr., is almost 50 and stuck forever as chair of English at West Central Pennsylvania University. It is April and fear of layoffs--even among the tenured--has reached mock-epic proportions; Hank has yet to receive his department budget and finds himself increasingly offering comments such as "Always understate necrophilia" to his writing students. Then there are his possible prostate problems and the prospect of his father's arrival. Devereaux Sr., "then and now, an academic opportunist," has always been a high-profile professor and a low-profile parent.

Though Hank tries to apply William of Occam's rational approach (choose simplicity) to each increasingly absurd situation, and even has a dog named after the philosopher, he does seem to cause most of his own enormous difficulties. Not least when he grabs a goose and threatens to off a duck (sic) a day until he gets his budget. The fact that he is also wearing a fake nose and glasses and doing so in front of a TV camera complicates matters even further. Hank tries to explain to one class that comedy and tragedy don't go together, but finds the argument "runs contrary to their experience. Indeed it may run contrary to my own." It runs decidedly against Richard Russo's approach in Straight Man, and the result is a hilarious and touching novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:33 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In the course of one week, Henry Devereaux, Jr., a once-promising novelist and now the middle-aged chairman of a university English department in hilarious disarray, faces an angry colleague, a curvaceous adjunct trying to seduce him, and a goose on local television--all while coming to terms with his philandering father, the dereliction of his youthful promise, and the ominous failure of certain vital body functions.… (more)

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