I have a soft spot in my heart for Richard Russo and his ability to make hapless and problematic white men, often working-class white men, likeable protagonists. These men make questionable choices, they have huge blind spots about themselves and others, and they exasperate the women in the their lives quite a bit. Yet, they are enjoyable to spend time with, perhaps because at their core, there is decency.
In Everybody’s Fool, the sequel of sorts to Nobody’s Fool, Russo returns to the small upstate New York town of North Bath, where most folks are down on their luck and like the town itself, they can’t seem to catch a break. North Bath is the ugly twin sister to its neighbor, Schuyler Springs, a town whose mineral springs didn’t dry up and who has all the things that Bath doesn’t: “a vibrant local economy, an educated citizenry, visionary leadership, throngs of seasonal downstate visitors, an NPR affiliate radio station” (44).
The time frame is some years after the events of Nobody’s Fool but not the present day, since cell phones are just starting to creep into some folks’ hands. Donald “Sully” Sullivan is both more fortunate and less fortunate than when we last left him. He now owns a big house in the nice part of Bath, due to an inheritance from his friend and former teacher, Miss Beryl (one of the “nobody’s fools” from the previous novel). Though he doesn’t have to worry financially, his health is beginning to fail, a fact that he tries to hide from those around him, if not very successfully. His longtime affair with Ruth, a relationship that everyone including her husband knew about, has wound down but he still shows up every morning to help her open the restaurant she runs.
In this novel, Sully shares the story with many other fools—including the local police chief, the mayor, and a variety of local characters—mostly male and mostly white. The novel moves back and forth between these men—showing the ways they awkwardly relate to each other and to the women in their lives. The only character who isn’t likeable is Roy Purdy, Ruth’s ex-son-in-law, who comes back from a stint in jail with a list of folks he wants to take revenge on with Sully number one on that list. Though seeing North Bath through Roy’s eyes is highly uncomfortable, Russo does a good job of showing the logic of a sociopath and suggesting Roy might be the biggest fool of them all.
Though this was not my favorite Russo novel (that honor goes to the academic satire, Straight Man), I enjoyed spending time in North Bath once again