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Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

RussoRusso is a master at depicting small-town America--in particular, the economically depleted town of North Bath in upstate New York. Once a thriving mill town, its factory has long been shut down.  Its denizens subsist on odd jobs and assorted blue collar employment.

We were first introduced to this fictional place in Nobody’s Fool, published in 1993. That book focused on Sully—one of the great anti-heroes in contemporary American fiction.  The character was modelled on Russo’s ne’er-do -well father. Both a womanizer and a gambler, Sully is a WWII vet who returns from the war forever changed. His story continues in Everybody’s Fool, published in May of this year. The sequel resumes ten years after Nobody’s Fool ends. Sully is now in his 70s and ignoring a correctable heart condition. His son Peter is divorced and the young grandson we met in the previous book is starting college.  Rub Squeers, the mentally challenged man who dotes on Sully, now has a namesake—a dog Sully has rescued and renamed “Rub” to cause confusion. We again meet Ruth, Sully’s married lover, her obese husband who collects junk for a living, and her daughter, who waits tables at her mother’s diner and pulls extra shifts at the bar. Her ex-husband, Roy Purdy, has just gotten out of prison after serving time for assault and is bent on revenge.

Yet Sully, who loomed larger than life in the first novel, is not the focus of attention in the sequel. That role is left to police chief, Doug Raymer—an insecure and depressed man who obsesses over his wife’s infidelity and untimely death. It is through him that the book drives its title; Raymer believes everyone in town knew of the affair—everyone but him.

Everybody’s Fool is more than a continuation of the richly drawn characters introduced in Nobody’s Fool. The latest novel gives the reader a deeper look into their hardscrabble lives and sympathetically paints the bad luck and poor choices of the protagonists.  Moreover, it explores the nature of evil in a way that the first book did not.  Once again, Richard Russo has proven himself to be a masterful writer who depicts the price of human foibles with sensitivity, compassion, and above all, humor.

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