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Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo (1993)



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"Throughout his life a case study underachiever, Sully – people still remarked - was nobody's fool, a phrase that Sully no doubt appreciated without ever sensing its literal application – that at 60, he was divorced from his own wife, carrying on halfheartedly with another man's, estranged from his son, devoid of self-knowledge, badly crippled and virtually unemployable – all of which he stubbornly confused with Independence." (24)

I remember that while I was reading Empire Falls, there was a one-line accolade on the back of the book that stuck with me: Nobody does small town like Richard Russo. And surely that was the case with that particular novel. There is a great deal of that is in evidence here, too, in North Bath, a fictional, blue-collar town in upstate New York. But Nobody’s Fool is essentially Sully’s story – a n’er-do-well who, at sixty years old, remains one of the town’s unluckiest citizens, who has been doing the wrong thing triumphantly for fifty years. Sully rents a suite from Miss Beryl, his widowed and long since retired eighth grade teacher – she alone has genuine affection for Sully. Outside of Miss Beryl, Russo entertains readers with a host of secondary characters with whom Sully has at best dysfunctional relationships: his paramour Ruth, who is a married woman; his estranged son Peter; his persnickety, self-centered ex-wife Vera; his arrogant sometime employer Carl Roebuck; his mentally challenged, clingy friend Rub … and more.

A humourous, sometimes raucous, and always moving story, Nobody’s Fool embraces our human follies and triumphs. And while, truthfully, I tired of Sully’s childish, delinquent behaviour at 549 pages long, it’s impossible not to recommend Russo. ( )
4 vote lit_chick | Jan 28, 2017 |
What can I say except “Bravo, Mr. Russo, for making me care about such boring people, people I wanted to say ‘Get a life’.” Sully, an aging construction worker who seems to have ZERO going for him, has wormed his way into my heart because of Russo’s writing. Russo has shown that the boring everyday mundane happenings in our lives can make great stories. ( )
  brangwinn | Nov 14, 2016 |
What to say about the practically perfect book? If you saw the movie - go read the book it is so much better. I would get lost in the story and start thinking these were people I actually knew. If every writer were like Richard Russo I'd have to quit my job and move into the library! ( )
  knitwit2 | Sep 19, 2016 |
"For fairness and loyalty, however important to the head, were issues that could seldom be squared in the human heart, at the deepest depths of which lay the mystery of affection, of love, which you either felt or you didn’t, pure as instinct, which seized you, not the other way around, making a mockery of words like ‘should’ and ‘ought.’ The human heart, where compromise could not be struck, not ever. Where transgressions exacted a terrible price. Where tangled black limbs fell. Where the boom got lowered.”

This is just my second book by Richard Russo, but already I can mark him as a favorite author. His writing speaks to me - I like how he tells a story where basically nothing much happens but the characters are so real that you feel you know them personally. That's how life happens - not so much in the big moments but in the small forgotten ones that help to define who we are.

This is mostly the story of Sully and the lives that intersect his, and what I love about Sully is that he knows how to be kind. And he doesn't take any shit. At first glance, Sully seems like a failure - he seems reckless and thoughtless in his decision making. But Sully is actually very thoughtful - he thinks things through and then goes ahead and does things his way even when he knows that it is not "the smartest thing". Is it better to be smart or to be genuine?

Sully lives with Miss Beryl (renting out her upstairs), mother of the selfish and greedy Clive Jr., widow of Clive Sr. Miss Beryl used to teach eight grade and she has taught and remembers most everyone in town. Miss Beryl is another very interesting and deeply conflicted character - she loves Sully better than her own son, who has an agenda that does not meet with Miss Beryl's approval. Miss Beryl knows that she cannot trust her own son, but she feels guilty about this knowledge.

I loved the thoughtful progression through Miss Beryl's and Sully's thoughts and actions as they navigate the course of their journey. Miss Beryl understands that Sully is a product of his abusive father's violent behavior. She understands his stubbornness even when she doesn't condone it, and she definitely understands that forgiveness is not always an option or even necessary for redemption. Why do people always want us to forgive what should never be forgiven? And why do they think we cannot have closure without it? Acceptance and forgiveness are not the same thing. I wanted to applaud Sully for refusing to forgive his father, who, after all, never even asked for forgiveness. I didn't think Sully should have to relinquish his anger or his hurt.

“To Ruth’s way of thinking, Sully’s unwillingness to forgive as the source of his own stubborn failures, and in the past she’d been capable of being very persuasive on this subject, would in fact have persuaded about anyone but Sully. Her failure to convince him was probably the best single explanation for why things never worked out between them. She made it clear he could not have them both - herself and his stubborn, fixed determination. For a while he’s allowed her to undermine it in subtle ways. Once they’d even visited Big Jim in his nursing home. But Sully could only surrender so much, and he understood that if he and Ruth married, she’d eventually have him visiting Big Jim’s grave with fresh flowers. She’d go with him and make sure he left them. And where was the justice in that? It would mean that in the end Big Jim had fooled them all and beat the rap, walked out of court on some flimsy Christian loophole called forgiveness. No. Fuck him. Eternally."

This book is such a wonderful character study. Quiet and unassuming, it is packed full of humor and wit. Of charm and ugliness and truth. It spoke to me. Highly recommended and one I know I will reread. Thank you, Katie, for recommending this one. ( )
2 vote Crazymamie | Jul 24, 2016 |
I never thought I'd see the day when I'd bail on a Richard Russo book. I love his writing and his slice of life in small town stories are great. However, this novel is slow to develop- maybe that's intentional, since upstate New York doesn't sound very 'happening'.

The main character in Nobody's Fool, Sully, is a likable ne'er-do-well and the rest of the characters are interesting. I think that's the crux of my problem with this book, and I freely admit it may just be specific to me...... Jim Harrison wrote a collection of novellas and novels about a character called Brown Dog, a pseudo-Indian from Michigan's Upper Peninsula who is pretty much the same guy as Sully, only an order of magnitude funnier and more interesting. As I told my wife, I chuckled several times while reading about Sully, but Brown Dog will make a reader laugh out loud. That's hard to do with the written word..... I just couldn't get past the comparisons.

Anyway, it's probably just me but Nobody's Fool didn't cut it. ( )
  gmmartz | Jun 21, 2016 |
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Upper Main Street in the village of North Bath, just above the town's two-block-long business district, was quietly residential for three more blocks, then became even more quietly rural along old Route 27A, a serpentine two-lane blacktop that snaked its way through the Adirondacks of northern New York, with their tiny, down-at-the-heels resort towns, all the way to Montreal and prosperity.
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This is my favorite book of all time. Sully walks off the page and into your heart. Give in.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679753338, Paperback)

In his slyly funny and moving new novel, the author of The Risk Pool follows the unexpected operation of grace in a deadbeat, upstate New York town--and in the lives of the unluckiest of its citizens. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Paul Newman, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and Jessica Tandy. Author reading tour.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:33 -0400)

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An unlucky man in a deadbeat town in upstate New York, Sully must overcome numerous obstacles--a bum knee, terminal underemployment, and a not-too-helpful group of friends--as he copes with a new problem, his long-estranged son.

(summary from another edition)

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