Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘Everybody’s Fool’
Last June when Richard Russo was in town teaching at Aspen Summer Words, he mentioned that he’d just finished a new novel – a sequel to 1993’s “Nobody’s Fool.” The news, at least for this reader, was met with a mix of excitement and trepidation. It could be a joy to again pull up a stool at the White Horse Tavern and catch up with antihero Donald “Sully” Sullivan and the hard-luck folks of hard-luck North Bath, N.Y. But decades-later novelistic sequels often have a way of disappointing the imagination – recent examples include Bret Easton Ellis’s belated “Less Than Zero” sequel and Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchmen.”
Thankfully, Russo’s sequel, “Everybody’s Fool,” doesn’t diminish it predecessor.
This broad, black comedy picks up 10 years after the original and focuses on two madcap days filled with incident in the economically depressed old upstate New York mill town. Now in the late 1990s, the town is still in the shadow of the better-off Schuyler Springs. Buildings collapse and toxic sludge rises out the earth in this Bath, there are good guys and some very bad guys, but the novel remains mostly a character-based slice of life from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Russo, America’s poet laureate of emptied-out working class mill towns.
Sully is the same crotchety wiseacre, but a decade older, moving a little slower, suffering from a heart condition and an improved economic standing. He’s less the protagonist here than part of an ensemble made up mostly of the same folks as “Nobody’s Fool.” The bumbling cop Douglas Raymer has been promoted to police chief, and he carries much of the narrative here. Through his pratfalls and clumsy speech (he’s misprinted his business cards with the motto “We’re not happy until you’re not happy”) he’s a loveable lug. Raymer is obsessed with the infidelity of his recently deceased wife. He carries a garage door opener that he found in her car and hatches a plan to find her lover by going garage-to-garage through Bath. But that quest, like most of the overactive whiz-bang plot points in “Everybody’s Fool,” seems an excuse for Russo to follow Raymer around town, observing his quirks and those of this vanishing piece of America.