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Straight Man: A Novel (original 1997; edition 1998)
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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)
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.
(summary from another edition)
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