Not Surprising, Most of Richard Russo’s Fools are Men

Everybody’s Fool is the follow-up to Nobody’s Fool, Russo’s 1994 portrait of Donald Sullivan and life in North Bath, New York––a fictional community that is a compilation of Gloversville, where Russo grew up, and Ballston Spa, Saratoga Spring’s step sister. Sully is older now and has been told he needs a defibrillator. He’s also come into some money––his trifecta paid off more than once, then his high school English teacher left her house to him. Unable to work his usual jobs and not needing the money, he pays less attention to his sidekick Rub than the latter would prefer, but still ends most days on a bar stool in his favorite watering hole.

While Sully was “nobody’s fool” in the prior volume, here all the men earn that title: Sully for sure, Rub, Carl, the son of the man who started a successful construction company who often hire Sully and Rub, and most of all Doug Raymer––a minor character in Nobody’s Fool, now serving his second term as North Bath’s Sheriff and front and center in Everybody’s Fool.

Raymer hasn’t gotten over the fact that he discovered his wife’s body the day she was leaving him. A victim of an accidental fall, Becka’s decision to leave him with an unknown lover eats at Raymer’s soul to the extent he has put his attempts to discover who betrayed him ahead of his job.

Also reprising from the earlier book is Roy Purdy, a low-life who was married to the daughter of the woman Sully once had a long-term affair with. Those two women suffer from having married men who are fools at best, as do the mayor’s wife and Sully’s ex-wife who is now close to death a victim of dementia.

Russo introduces new characters in this volume––the mayor, a man who sought to revitalize North Bath, and an African-American brother and sister. Jerome Bond works for the Schuyler (think Saratoga Springs) Police Department while Charice works for Doug Raymer.

Richard Russo is one of the few writers today who can write an entire book about fools, dragging us into their self-defeating life styles, afraid for the tragedies they might bring about, only to see them skate through more often by chance than reasoned judgment.

One of Russo’s strengths is that he doesn’t sugar-coat. His characters are fools. Sheriff Raymer knows he is, but seems too weak to overcome his failure to have figured out the answer to the question Sully’s English teacher asked him when he was her student. Who are you Doug Raymer? she wanted him to answer. He blames himself for his wife’s betrayal and is ready to throw in the towel.

Sully is still “nobody’s fool,” but here he faces the possibility that the game he’s played for the past sixty years is close to ending. If he survives, it’s doubtful he’ll live long enough for Russo to bring him back a second time.

One minor gripe: Since Bath is the name of an actual city in Maine, readers who don’t know upstate New York may not be sure where this story takes place. Russo’s referring to ‘selectmen,’ a governmental position that doesn’t exist in New York State, may contribute to the confusion.

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