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Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo (1993)



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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 |
It took me over a month to finish Nobody's Fool but that had more to do with me than with this excellent novel. I ended up loving it and connecting with it in a way I did not expect, and much more so than with Russo's Pulitzer winner, Empire Falls. I think this was mostly due to my familiarity with the area in which the novel takes place (upstate New York, north of Albany and near a fictionalized version of Saratoga Springs which I visited often as a child) and my familiarity with the characters peopling Russo's world. They were so real to me, all their foibles and kindnesses and self-destructive behavior, all the quiet despair of living on the edge in a dying town. But it's all rendered very subtly, with humor and grace.

The protagonist, Sully, is a ne'er do well handyman with an ex-wife, a mistress, a resentful son, confused grandson, and devoted best friend upon whom he heaps (usually good-natured) abuse.

This is how Sully's life goes:

"He didn’t know for sure, of course, but it just made fatalistic sense the truck would die today. Yesterday he’d had a job offer that was contingent upon having a truck, which meant the truck had to die.” (page 227)

And this is the enigma that is Sully - a good man with a good heart who mostly seems to make bad decisions and has trouble connecting with other people on anything but a superficial level (Ralph is his ex-wife's husband and Peter is his son):

“'People like Sully,' he said. 'I do myself. He’s…' Ralph tried to think what Sully was.

'Right,' Peter said. 'He sure is.'” (page 386)

There is not a huge moment of redemption in this novel, where the sun suddenly shines on Sully and all becomes clear. But he does seem to begin to come to have a sense of his impact on people and to care what that impact is. His former carelessness becomes unacceptable in the face of the growing affection between him and his grandson. He remains implacable in some things though, including his hatred of his deceased father who was a mean and bullying drunk who abused his wife and sons.

“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.” (page 543)

Harsh, yes, but I feel the same way about certain people and circumstances in my life, so again, the bell rang clear and true for me.

And a final quote, which I just loved, because it perfectly describes the complexity and mystery of love and what ties us to other people:

“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.” (page 545)

Highly, highly recommended, if you can tolerate a book in which not much seems to happen. Still waters run deep. ( )
7 vote katiekrug | Mar 21, 2016 |
Marvellous characterisation achieved with clever dialogue. Plenty of laugh out loud moments. I really enjoyed this. ( )
  HelenBaker | Feb 24, 2016 |
Blue collar life in an upstate NY town that has seen better days. Sully is an interesting character who has a knack for making poor decisions. Because his personal needs are minimal, he manages to usually not end-up in situations any worse than where he was. His self opinion is honest, but he does regularly cross the line when it comes to the law or societal mores. He understands why he is where is in life and is at peace with it. ( )
  Cricket856 | Jan 25, 2016 |
Sully is one of my favorite all time literary characters. ( )
  novelcommentary | Jun 29, 2015 |
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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)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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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