Everybody’s Fool – Paul Newman Lives Again

9780307270641_p0_v1_s192x300   Paul Newman in Nobody’s Fool embodied Richard Russo’s main character Sully so perfectly, I find it impossible to read the sequel – Everybody’s Fool –  without seeing Newman. This sequel to the dysfunctional lives of the citizens of North Bath focuses on Douglas Raymer who has gone from bumbling police officer to the Chief of Police.  Alas, another actor who cannot reprise his role – Douglas Raymer was played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Sully is back on his favorite stool at the White Horse Tavern, and slithers in and out of the narrative, along with real snakes discovered when the air conditioning in Raymer’s apartment building breaks down.  But Sully’s VA cardiologist tells him he may only have a year to live, and he is determined to finish life his way, keeping his condition from everyone, including Ruth, the woman he has had an affair with for twenty years.

Other familiar characters are back too; even the dead eighth grade teacher, Miss Beryl Peoples, haunts the narrative with her remembered words of advice and her gift to Sully.  Sully inherited her house, sold his father’s old house to the city, and finally won the trifecta; he has money now and does not have to work.  Rub is back in double; the stuttering mentally challenged sidekick to Sully, and Sully’s dog – also called Rub.

On the day Raymer’s wife decided to leave him, she accidentally slipped on a loose rug, fell down the stairs “(like a Slinky”) and died next to the packed suitcases at the foot of the stairs.  Raymer found a garage door opener among her effects and assumes it opens the door to his wife’s lover.  He fondles the device in his pocket as he plans his investigation to discover which door it opens.  Russo creates one of many humorous incidents when Raymer faints, falls into an open grave, and drops the door opener.  When he awakens later in the hospital, he realizes it has been buried with the body, and his hopes for identifying the lover are dashed.

Nevertheless, his determined quest goes on, and Raymor’s actions provide some  humorous incidents in the book, from digging up the judge’s grave for the garage door opener to getting struck by lightning.   The last chapters are the funniest as Raymor channels his alter ego Dougie, a product of the lightning strike.    In the end, Russo finally allows Raymor to come out of his ineptitude and become the man Miss Beryl knew he could be. He picks up an angry cobra and puts it back into its box, finds the victim of a hit and run in time to save him, and tracks down the driver, who gets his just reward, Russo style.  And he finally identifies his wife’s lover in a surprising twist.

Most of Russo’s characters are benign but Roy Purdy, who appeared briefly in Nobody’s Fool, when he used his rifle butt to break the jaw of his ex-wife, Janey, is a true villain. Roy went to prison, but he’s out and back in town with a vengeance in Everybody’s Fool.  Russo allows the reader inside Purdy’s scary head, as he plots, abuses, and maims his wife and mother-in-law. Purdy is a downright evil character, and redemption is sweet when he gets his due.

In the end, Sully decides to have that heart operation at the VA hospital, so he is available for future Russo sequels.  Raymor finds new confidence and a new love.  And life in North Bath continues on.  Who knows – we readers might get to visit the neighborhood again sometime.  In his review of the book for the New York Times, T. C. Boyle said:

“Bath is real, Sully is real, and so is Hattie’s and the White Horse Tavern and Miss Peoples’s house on Main, and I can only hope we haven’t seen the last of them. I’d love to see what Sully’s going to be up to at 80.”

I wonder too.





The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

9780395869468_p0_v1_s260x420Discovering Penelope Fitzgerald has given me the same rush as finding Jane Gardam – seasoned English authors do that to me.  In her slim but powerful volume of The Bookshop, Fitzgerald’s cautionary tale reminds us of the smallness of some people and the uncomfortable closeness of small-town living.  Although Fitzgerald first wrote her book in 1978, bookshops are still disappearing and courageous people who dare to challenge, are still are still being thwarted.

Middle-aged widow Florence Green decides to open a bookstore in a small British seaside town.  Since this will be the first bookstore in a town without even a library, her forward-looking venture would seem  heroic.  However, Florence did not count on the town’s self-appointed arts doyenne, Mrs. Gamart, jealous of anyone who would challenge her authority over the town, who suddenly decides that the old, leaky, haunted site of the new bookshop that has been empty for years, should be the town arts center, under her supervision.

With her determination, Florence’s initial success with the bookshop and her customers’ clamour for the new bestseller, Lolita, only raises the ire of fellow shopkeepers who greedily envy her short-lived success and irritates Mrs.Gamart.    Despite the patronage of the town’s old monied recluse, the bookshop falls to Mrs.Gamart’s lobbying for a new bill to take over the “historic” building, leaving Florence with no car, no money, and no books.

Throughout the story, Fitzgerald offers her unique brand of wit through Florence, changing morose actions into satire, sometimes with farcical asides.  It’s easy to laugh at the haughty dames and be wary of the scurrilous BBC announcer.  And, just when it seems Florence will be saved, her hero falls over dead.  Sometimes, the good guys don’t win.