“They’re here!” is a famous movie line announcing the arrival of ghostly phenomenon and is what I first thought of while reading Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo. It certainly wasn’t for the ghosts, there are none; it was because I found all those wonderful characters from the first book are still here.
Lets face it, when one approaches a sequel one’s first thought or trepidation usually is “Will it be as good as the parent book? And will the mainstay, whimsical, non-conforming and get-me-through-a day sort of people still be there in the end?” For readers of the book Nobody’s Fool, or for those having seen the movie adaptation starring Paul Newman, fans will quickly find the same cast of characters returning. The only thing that has changed, as it does for all of us, is time and circumstance.
This, Russo’s eighth novel, is again set in the economically distressed, blue-collar working class town of North Bath, a fictional town in upstate New York. And just as before, the people living there are simply trying to get through the day. In this offering, it happens to be about two days. Donald Sullivan, “Sully,” is once again an important element of the story. He has survived Ms. Beryl, his grade-school teacher, landlady, and the recognized matriarch of North Bath. Over the course of 10 years he has turned his luck around, now owning Ms. Beryl’s home, profiting from the sale of his late father’s house and the occasional horse race. With his sidekick and best friend, the mentally challenged Rub, Sully provides an ever-present supporting role to the story. This time the story is squarely focused on the bit part character in Nobody’s Fool, the comedic buffoon Douglas Raymer, who is now the chief of police.
Having fallen into the open grave of the town’s judge during his funeral service and losing a valuable piece of evidence, a garage door opener, Chief Raymer is right in the middle of trying to determine who his recently deceased wife was about to run off with before her own tragic accident. This self-conscious, hapless, everybody’s fool sort of guy sees himself as the joke of the town. But, while handling a number of situations along the way, from a building collapse, to the accidental release of poisonous snakes, spousal abuse, a lightening strike, and eventually solving a hit and run case which puts an end to the unsavory and evil character of Roy Purdy, he does his job well.
In a recent interview, Russo shares the origin of this novel. “This story came from a tale I heard about a cop discovering a garage door opener in his wife’s belongings, so he goes around town pointing the remote at different garages. If he could find the house where the garage door went up, he would find his wife’s lover,” Russo said.
Russo’s ability to take a myriad of characters, put them in a place, add a sinister element along with some rude yet comical language and make a story that ends much better than it started, is and has been a great recipe for success. He is a master when it comes to chronicling small town life, especially when capturing the lighter moments of that life. Living in Portland, Maine, this is his first sequel. In 2002, he garnered a Pulitzer for his novel, Empire Falls.
I thoroughly enjoyed this read, but I must admit I am both a fan of Russo’s and have read many of his earlier works, including Empire Falls. At times I did find myself wanting certain chapters to move more quickly, only because I found myself attached to some characters more so than others. I highly recommend reading both of these novels to see how a sequel should be approached. In my opinion, and in this case, the sequel easily could stand on its own, but the two books together are so much more enjoyable, very much like sitting down with Sully and Rub at the White Horse Tavern, having a beer and waiting for something to happen.
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016 Hardcover, $27.95