October 24, 2021
Richard Russo – Nobody’s Fool & Everybody’s Fool
I am totally hooked on Richard Russo novels right now. I listened to Nobody’s Fool and Everybody’s Fool on audio book, and every time my husband caught a line of Nobody’s Fool he said it always seemed like it was just some guy sitting on a bar stool.
And there is a fair bit of that. Sully (short for … Sullivan) spends his evenings at the Horse with his mates. His life is in major disrepair, but he’s okay with that. He is constantly in debt, with a broken down ute and having to beg for work from someone who still hasn’t paid him for an earlier job which left him with a bung knee that isn’t getting any better.
His best mate called Rub is reliant on him to get him some work, and is never happier than working alongside Sully time telling him everything he wishes for. It kind of makes Sully happy too. That’s the thing with Sully – he is okay with his life not working out, with his married girlfriend of 20 years calling it quits for a final time, with his injury, and with his debt. He’s more scared of having to go to his uptight ex-wife’s for Thanksgiving dinner.
How they ever ended up together is hard to imagine. She wants everything tidy, she suffers from having her grandchildren messing up the bathroom, and from anything else that’s not perfect.
Their son Peter returns to the town they both live in for the holiday, which is what brings them all into the same house. Peter’s life is also in crisis right now and somehow Sully, for all his disarray, is better able to help him than his mother. Even though she has done everything she can to protect Peter all his life from the bad influence of his father.
It’s a huge, meditative book. The other, awesome character in this book is Sully’s eighth grade teacher, Miss Beryl Peoples. Sully boards with her in the upstairs part of her house, which still has no furniture in it, many years after he happened to move in with her after he accidentally burnt down the place he was in.
Miss Peoples was actually married, but nobody could believe it because she’s ugly. But she’s smart. And her and Sully genuinely care about each other, in spite of him being a solitary ghost who floats in and out of the upstairs place. Each morning he comes down and checks she’s not dead. The background to their relationship comes out over time. And Miss Peoples is the epitome of ‘Nobody’s Fool’.
If it’s too much to read on the page (the book has really small print!) try the audiobook version. It is such a delight.
And I think Everybody’s Fool is even better. It is more tightly plotted (more things actually happen than sitting on bar stools and escaping an ex-wife) with a wider canvas of main characters, including the policeman Douglas Raymer, who Sully punched towards the end of ‘Nobody’s Fool’.
Raymer is losing his mind over a wife who stopped loving him, was about to leave him for someone else, then fell downstairs to her death just as she was leaving. (Raymer is not implicated in this.)
Sully’s had a run of luck in terms of money and a house, but it’s not making him happy as he sees his friends falling on hard times, including Carl (a villain from Nobody’s Fool), who is now his friend, and living in his house, while Sully lives in a container out the back.
Adventures include a snake on the loose and digging up a fresh grave to find clues to who Raymer’s wife fell in love with. Raymer is also struck by lightning, and daring to fall in love again.
Amidst the funny scenes are serious, violent attacks on the people Sully loves, and news that he doesn’t have much time to live. Sully is more ghostlike in this novel than Nobody’s Fool, as he deals with this news. His generosity and devil-may-care attitude is still there, but there’s also another side of him, showing up in his impatience with Rub and his simple ways. Sully is not held up as some ideal, salt of the earth character – he can be cruel and dismissive, after many years of being amazingly tolerant of Rub’s need to be with him, and talk to him about everything on his mind.
It’s richly complex, like thick, sweet cream – a real treat.