Monday, March 16, 2009

Nobody's Fool, by Richard Russo

I dipped in and out of this book for months. In between those dips i finished whole books, gulped them like milkshakes, enjoying the quick read. This book deserves more than a quick read. More, it's the kind of book I almost live in for a while.

The star of this show is Sully - Don Sullivan - a 60-year-old man who somehow lets "stupid streaks" take over. He isn't by any means stupid. He hasn't had much education but he has a quick intelligence that allows him to grasp a situation easily. More, he can see when he is heading downhill, can even say to himself, "stop now!" and will be helpless to stop himself. Once he has started an action nothing stops him.

He has a gift. One person, well into the book, says he is able to make others feel good. He does this by joking, by connecting with others through his often-sarcastic - but not mean-spirited - comments. Some people don't care for his way of being, because he has other personality traits that can drive one to drink. He forgets important things, like his son. He screws up jobs. He acts before he thinks.

All of this does nothing to give much of an idea of who Sully is. Only reading the book will do that. To me, a condensed description is that Sully is a man ruled in large part by his resentment of his father, now dead. He is unwilling to forgive the SOB, particularly because he saw that his father never asked for forgiveness. Never even acknowledged the pain and grief that he caused others. In this Sully is not like his father. His quick temper, unfortunately, mirrors his father's, reminding him that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree".

While Sully is the star, the surrounding cast is well worth knowing as well. There are few authors who can create characters the like of Russo's. People in small towns with small ideas, small ambitions, just getting through, yet immensely likeable. These folks do not need to climb mountains to be important.

A book reviewer once noted that Russo is a great guy to have a beer with, he is relaxed and full of great repartee, and that one would quickly forget what a great writer he is. I think it's this aspect of the writer that permeates his novels, makes his characters vivid, funny, real. It's hard to let go of them.

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