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Dear Mr Russo,I ve just finishedStraight Man the fourth of your books that I ve read including Empire Falls I thought Empire Falls was pretty brilliant but in my mind, you should have won a Pulitzer for Straight Man I would have voted for Straight Man but damn, I m not on the panel, but if I was, I d vote for Straight Man.You know, I had to wait ages to read it my library didn t have it So I ordered it from that place with the same name as where the guy who may or may not have shot Kennedy was standing when he made the shot You know, The Book Depository although this one is in the UK and I m in Australia so it took a little time to deliver But nothing with Free Postage is really top shelf, is it and the print in this copy was microscopic So I then had to buy the new hardback from your US of A which cost , the postage was huge, and took another little time to deliver But heck, was the wait worth it It was brilliant, witty, extraordinarily funny,and unforgettable the best two days I ever spent in a book A quiet word between you and me If you did base Hank Deveraux Jr on someone you know, please send him my way I could use a little of his talented, comedic and offbeat outlook lately And I d certainly value having someone around whose life is filled with such hilarious moments as is his.The people sharing the train carriage on the four hour trip to Melbourne with me did not appreciate the ripples of laughter, the knee slapping or the chuckles that burst from me while I was reading Straight Man In fact, I nearly took Straight Man into the bathroom with me, for fear someone would eject the innocent but exhilaratingly humorous novel from the train in my absence.Actually, if I was on the panel, I d say give him the Pulitzer for both novels signedB the Book AddictFrom the dust jacketPacked with scenes of pure genius, and memorable characters from the egregious administrator Pope to the manic dog Occam Straight man is another triumph of humour and humanity by the author of Nobody s Fool Exhilarating, hilarious, with a dark and tender undertow, this is the unforgettable portrait of a middle aged man caught somewhere between cause and effect I remember almost nothing about Richard Russo s Straight Man I imagine I laughed a couple of times, and I think I enjoyed the reading experience, but there is only one specific thing that I remember from the book itself More on that later, though, because I want to talk about the peripheral things I remember about Straight Man.I remember reading it for a Literary Theory class my first class at my new University with one of my all time favourite profs, Dr W He admitted, very early into the book, that he hadn t read it before His wife is a librarian, you see, and he always let her pick a wild card book for whichever class he happened to be teaching, something she was sure he d like, something she thought would be appropriate She picked Straight Man because Dr W was the chair of an English Dept in a seriously underfunded university where he played chief negotiator and neutral observer to a pack of bickering tenured maniacs He apologized for the choice, realizing that it wasn t the best book to apply literary theory too, but he kept using it and did a damn fine job.Meanwhile, in the back of the classroom, I made friends with a wonderful woman named MM you didn t think I was going to give her complete name did you What s the fun in that She was in her early fifties, a southern belle of the old school, and I discovered that she was also the secretary of the English Dept She audited a class every semester, just for fun, and Dr W s class was her freebie Why is this important Well, MM took a liking to me, recommended me to Dr W , and I found myself as the Grad Assistant for the next two years, and that s where I met a woman, the Undergrad Assistant, who I loved deeply and passionately.Further, every time I ve taken a pee in a public restroom since I read the book over a decade ago I have had a mindflash of the main character, HD, comparing the power of his stream to the young bucks that pee next to him I can t take a public pee without thinking of the book, nor can I take a public pee without comparing my stream with whomever s around And sadly, my stream doesn t have the power it used to Now I worry about kidney stones and prostate exams and future erectile dysfunction, and all because this damned book has made the power of my stream a permanent obsession and in case you re wondering, this is the ONE specific thing I remember from Straight Man What the hell is up with that As for what I think about Straight Manwellwho cares I doubt Russo would care what I think, even if he knew me What matters, at least what I think should matter, is that just the sight of Straight Man s cover, that cheesy red thing with the drake or is it a gander brings back memories of Dr W , MM and that girl And every pee I take calls to mind that cheesy red cover with the gander or is it a drake That s gotta be good enough for any author.Shitit would be for me. Richard Russo is one of my favorite authors His books are always embedded in forlorn towns, circling around Dilapidated Central, suffering blue collar havens, podunk as can be, with sell by dates splashed all over it The people, towns, souls and minds have lost their initial charm while slowly sliding into obscurity The atmosphere is always a bit depressing The stories are always slow moving, and satirical social commentary becomes the mainstay of all the conversations everywhere FROM THE BLURB Richard Russo performs his characteristic high wire walk between hilarity and heartbreak Russo s protagonist is William Henry Devereaux, Jr., the reluctant chairman of the English department of a badly underfunded college in the Pennsylvania rust belt Devereaux s reluctance is partly rooted in his character he is a born anarchist and partly in the fact that his department issavagely divided than the Balkans.In the course of a single week, Devereaux will have his nose mangled by an angry colleague, imagine his wife is having an affair with his dean, wonder if a curvaceous adjunct is trying to seduce him with peach pits, and threaten to execute a goose on local television All this while coming to terms with his philandering father, the dereliction of his youthful promise, and the ominous failure of certain vital body functions In short, Straight Man is classic Russo side splitting and true to life, witty, compassionate, and impossible to put down I have never closed a book of this author feeling anything but good There will be humor and sadness, and the story will be a terrific ode to mediocrity He knows how to apply malapropisms to the lives of his characters in his realistic fiction.In the city of Railton, Pennsylvania, forty nine year old William Henry Devereaux, Jr is a rogue An ingrate according to Teddy Barnes Dickie Pope thinks he s insane, unprincipled andtoo idealistic Judas Peckerwood , says Billy Quigley Beatnick says Lou A Clever man says his mother Absentminded , say the three feminists in his life his wife Lily and his two daughters A vague pain in the collective ass concludes the laissez fair William Henry Devereaux, Jr himself Not that it deters the solipsistic professor to feel like his dog, Occam the fastest, the smartest, the bravest, especially in his dreams, where he is always this hell of a guy, always optimistic about the future World weary and always upstream, he cannot be moved into action, except when he encounters a urinary track problem Some sort of bladder hysteria, according to his doctor He has all his bickering, gossiping colleagues in the English department miffed with his sardonic wit, where they scramble for positions, drive their own agendas, backbite for recognition fight their petty battles, slave away to their own superior ambitions, with little talent to back it up They have been working together for twenty years and basically overstayed their welcome in each other s lives.This is a gentle character based comedy about life in academe Hilarious moments with sadness subtly interwoven in the characters backstories But there is alsoAnimal rights thugs guarding the pond, sexual harassment lunches, the detoxing of Modern Languages Something s happening here What it is ain t exactly clear Richard Russo is read with an open mind The protagonist, Henry Devereaux, reminds me so much of Sully in his other books And I love that kind curmudgeon Expect the unexpected And make time It s so absolutely worth it. Life s a duck or a goose Whatever Sometimes you just have to grab it by the throat and give it a good shake if you want to make sense of it As I tell my students, all good stories begin with character, and Teddy s rendering of the events fails entirely to render what it felt like to be William Henry Devereaux, Jr., as the events were taking place Richard Russo strikes gold again I definitely managed to get into the mind of Hank, an English teacher at a small university in Railton, Pennsylvania, as he goes through a midlife crisispromotion in an institution like West Central Pennsylvania University was a little bit like being proclaimed the winner of a shit eating contest. Hank s story is similar in many ways to those of other Russo protagonists that had won me over with their messy, humorous, heart wrenching attempts to make sense of life, love, family, friends, aging, failure and everything in between Odd details and unexpected points of view are the stuff of which vivid stories are made What makes William Henry Devereaux, Jr special in this typical Russo panoply of underdogs living in decrepit blue collar towns, is his academic background As a teacher of creative writing, Hank is allowed to include in his narrative and share with the reader a few of his writer s tricks, a glimpse at the way he makes storytelling an art formHe misses all the details that even an out of practice storyteller like me would not only mention but place in the foreground He s like a tone deaf man trying to sing, sliding between notes, tapping his foot arhythmically, hoping his exuberance will make up for not bothering to establish a key Teddy is a fellow English teacher, an earnest fellow,than a little in love with Hank s wife, but his major failure is a lack of sophistication in his narrative presentation Hank, with a published novel under his belt, although one writtenthan two decades previously, is ever ready to correct him I don t see how you could not kid about love and still claim to have a sense of humor Here I think is one key to unlock any of the Richard Russo novels despair is always waiting right around the corner, ready to wreck our lives, and the only way to deal with it is to laugh in its face Hank deliberately chooses the role of buffoon as he tries to steer his deeply divided English department through a perfect storm of budget cuts, staff cuts and failed dreams Like the decrepit car he is driving, Hank feels his life is sliding backward on an icy slope instead of climbing up to his house on a hill My spiritual position is the outfield True, I might be a good target for shortstops to throw at, but I m most myself ranging in the outfield after fly balls Russo is a master of the complex metaphor, always finding an odd, surprising, funny angle to illustrate his hero s struggle It could be an old car, a baseball game, a poor goose on the campus pond, a bloody nose from an outraged poet Hank seems to do a lot of leg pulling and clowning, especially in the beginning of the novel, but you can always feel the underlying despair at reaching fifty years of age and asking yourself what had you done with your life, with your youthful aspirations In English departments the most serious competition is for the role of straight man Humor is one way to deal with this despair, and Hank has turned his goofing into an art form, but there comes a time when you can no longer dodge the incoming balls I ve slipped into baseball lingo myself, and I don t even know the rules of the game So what do you do when the going gets tough Flee from town or turn back and fight Play the clown or the straight man We might manage to be happy, even here, if the faces around us were new, but we have to look at each other every day, and this reminds us of ourselves and all the opportunities we found compelling reasons not to seize The other tool Hank has in his arsenal is William of Occam, a reminder that we need to focus on what is the most important thing in our life, and eliminate the distractions, the false paths, the unnecessary complications All fine and dandy in theory, but not so easy to apply when it comes to a human heartWhat ails people is never simple, and William of Occam, who provided mankind with a beacon of rationality by which to view the world of physical circumstance, knew better than to apply his razor to the irrational, where entities multiply like strands of a virus under a microscope Like it happened with all my previous novels by Richard Russo, writing a review is a hard task because there are so many things that relate directly to my personal experiences, so many moments of laughter in the face of adversity or of tenderness from the most unexpected directions I feel like I would need to write ten reviews instead of one It s not only about Hank Every little side character in the story deserves at least a mention, to have his or her own struggle remembered estranged parents, daughters leaving the family home, colleagues facing their own disillusions, neighbours who arethan comic reliefThe task he has chosen for himself, of wooing my mother with a bright red pickup truck, a Patsy Cline tape, and a string of malapropisms, is ample justification to me for not taking the world too seriously, its relentless heartbreak notwithstanding Richard Russo writes variations of the same novel over and over again, but this novel is all encompassing of our modern life, of our economic and personal failures, of our endurance and of our hopes for the future Other people make their peace with who they are, what they ve become Why can t I Peace is usually to be found in the aftermath of a war In this present novel, the war between the factions of the Railton University English Department ends in a compromise between generations, between the firebrands we were in our early years and the limitations of our older selvesGrowing old, as someone once remarked, is not for sissies, but age is not the issue so much as diminishment I have mentioned humor and Occam s razor as tools to deal with the hard knocks from life The third one for Hank, and for us, is literature art Hank s parents were both bookworms, so absorbed in their fictional worlds and in their academic careers, that they became distant and distracted from their own son Hank s revenge was to become a writer instead of a reader and critic of novels, probably also a way to impress his parents and finally get noticed But when he falls in love it is with another English teacher His daughters may be shunning an academic careerMy daughter has never found a moment s comfort in a book, and this provokes in me a complex reactionJulie swears she will not become a fool of books , but is this the reaction of a rebellious teenager or a way to get noticed There are patterns and themes everywhere, but if I were to pick only one it is the story of Rachel, the department secretary with literary aspirations It s maybe the truest path to redemption for Hank He may not write another novel, but he can guide the next novelist along That s about all I have to teach her, since the requisite heart, voice, vision, and sense of narrative are already there, learned intuitively also, on the subject of being accepted for publication for the first timeShe will consider the possibility that the leaky vessel of her talent may be seaworthy after all Instead of being dictated to by the waves of doubt that threaten to swamp all navigators, she ll turn bravely into the wind The moment she does is the moment I envy I never wrote or published anything myself, but if I can steer somebody else towards a good read, I believe I can be at peace with myself and with my love for the written word Thanks, Richard Russo. ( Pdf ) ☱ Straight Man ⚖ In This Uproarious New Novel, Richard Russo Performs His Characteristic High Wire Walk Between Hilarity And Heartbreak Russo S Protagonist Is William Henry Devereaux, Jr The Reluctant Chairman Of The English Department Of A Badly Underfunded College In The Pennsylvania Rust Belt Devereaux S Reluctance Is Partly Rooted In His Character He Is A Born Anarchist And Partly In The Fact That His Department Is Savagely Divided Than The BalkansIn The Course Of A Single Week, Devereaux Will Have His Nose Mangled By An Angry Colleague, Imagine His Wife Is Having An Affair With His Dean, Wonder If A Curvaceous Adjunct Is Trying To Seduce Him With Peach Pits, And Threaten To Execute A Goose On Local Television All This While Coming To Terms With His Philandering Father, The Dereliction Of His Youthful Promise, And The Ominous Failure Of Certain Vital Body Functions In Short, Straight Man Is Classic Russo Side Splitting And True To Life, Witty, Compassionate, And Impossible To Put Down
3.5 stars.This had parts I found interesting, some very funny scenes, some compassionate, and some where I tuned out Russo s humor is wry and masculine Often jokes are made at the expense of others students, females, academic colleagues, and academia alike are targeted , but also self deprecating I adore him, but will probably always compare all his works to Empire Falls, a tough one to live up to IMO. I have read enough of Richard Russo s novels to become very familiar with his style of writing and storytelling The types of characters he creates, the settings in which he places his characters, how he builds his characters and the type of conflict he creates in his stories While some level of predictability comes with this familiarity, I continue to enjoy Russo s work For one thing, he makes me laugh I also enjoy his characters and find myself rooting for them despite their insistence on repeating past mistakes with predictable results Not that any of us have ever done that Straight Man is excellent Russo fare I enjoyed my time with Hank, and just like Hank I often wasn t sure why he was doing what he was doing He seemed to have no clear plan He seemed to be finding his way as he made his choices As a reader I felt like I was figuring it out as Hank was figuring it out Compared to some of Russo s other efforts, though, I felt that I didn t get to know the secondary characters as well as I would have liked Overall, a very enjoyable read highly recommended to anyone who likes Russo. Hilarious I imagine the guy from House playing this role in the film Anyway, Russo is so funny and satiracle and wonderful and you will love and hate the main character because he will remind you of yourself in so many ways Fabulous It bothers me so much when people have such auper high expectations of a novel IT IS FICTION, people, it isn t supposed to mimic real life, the characters aren t supposed to appear super realistic The story is supposed to transport you to another time and place, maybe make you laugh, or cry, or get angry, but it isn t supposed to make you say, wow, that was so realistic, just like real life, just like boring, real life Come on Do we really have to be that haughty Let s see any of you write a novel. What ails people is never simple, and William of Occam, who provided mankind with a beacon of rationality by which to view the world of physical circumstance, knew better than to apply his razor to the irrational, where entities multiply like strands of a virus under a microscope Straight Man is the fourth novel by Pulitzer Prize winning American novelist, Richard Russo William Henry Devereaux Jnr, Hank at almost fifty, is interim chairman of the English department at the chronically underfunded West Central Pennsylvania University in Railton A certain week in April sees him enduring quite a variety of trials, both mental and physical It all starts in a meeting where he is nasally mangled by a colleague Or does it Perhaps his absent father has hadinfluence that he admits Russo subjects his protagonist to bouts of overactive imagination, the suspicions and petty politics of colleagues, his students decided lack of promise, his daughter s marital problems, a tempting flirtation with a younger woman, and an irritating and possibly worrying deterioration in the function of a certain organ Ducks, geese, a TV news crew, the local jail, a hot tub, peaches and their pits, a dog called Occam and a missing ceiling tile complete the picture Hank holds his colleagues in disdain You know the kind of company I keep If it weren t for erroneous conclusions, these people would never arrive at any at all , is critical of his friends He misses all the details than even an out of practice storyteller like me would not only mention but place in the foreground He s like a tone deaf man trying to sing, sliding between notes, tapping his foot arhythmically, hoping his exuberance will make up for not bothering to establish a key , and loves the wife who knows him entirely too well Promise me you ll act surprised is one of Lily s favourite, supposedly harmless pretences It hurts my feelings to pretend to be this dumb, I tell my wife Don t you care what people think of me But she just smiles They won t notice, she always explains It ll blend in with all the times you re genuinely slow He knows his own weaknesses I try to tell myself it s nothing but decent affection I feel for her, but the truth is, it doesn t feel entirely decent She s too lovely a woman for this to be decent affection, though it s probably not exactly indecent either Is there a stateor less halfway between decency and indecency Is there a name for such a realm The Kingdom of Cowardice The Fiefdom of Altruism The Grove of Academe and is well aware of his flaws I use my own solitude to consider what may well be my worst character flaw, the fact that in the face of life s seriousness, its pettiness, its tragedy, its lack of coherent meaning, my spirits are far too easily restored This is a book filled with humour, some of it quite dark, and much of it very dry it will have readers grinning, chuckling and laughing out loud, so is perhaps not a book to read in public Russo gives Hank some succinct and insightful observations What I suspect is that this brandy is intended to brace me for unpleasantness, and that any brandy used for this purpose may be imbued with medicinal bitterness if you suspect the truth He also allows Hank to display his literary talent in the form of descriptive prose Properly medicated, Yolanda felt becalmed on a flat lake where others nearby were sailing about merrily, wind snapping in their sailsSkipping her medication caused the sails of her own small craft to billow like the others, allowed her to join in the merriment, tacking in and out among the other revelers, the wind in her hair and her clothing.Fans of Russo s earlier books will not be disappointed with Straight Man readers new to his work will want to seek outworks by this talented author Clever and brilliantly funny. He lives his life as head of the English Department at a western Pennsylvania University. Married, he is the father of grown children, the owner of a house and dog The fifty years of his life has been dedicated to the fine honing of obstinate vengeance, the satisfaction of tripping others up, the culmination not of progressing himself or family but the endless monotone of self destruction These are the consequences with which he sculpts himself, along with a sealed isolation protecting him from those others floating about him.We must discuss the writing style of this book It is both necessary and important There is no style This a not a studied Oullipian attempt at writing under imposed limitations, or an effort to be subversive or clever Russo writes with earnest simplicity of a story told Without the flowering of grand phrases or the twinings of stylistic experimentation, he allows the story to unfold smooth, at its own pace A difficult and courageous act for a writer to have the faith in a story that it will be sufficient without extraneous help It reads interesting and easy I did not read studiously slow treating the book as a text, while looking over my shoulder and whispering in my ear, Hey S that was a solid interpretation Good going son your are piecing together a theme I simply listened to a story teller telling me a story.Afterward I realized there were numerous gems not hidden but that I missed since I was rightfully engaged at reading on hearing a story level.He is not coy These notations of deep concern and importance are events that surface out of the process of original and true story telling At times, labeled as a lunch pail working man s writer has been misleading and may stir readers adrift The confusion lies with subjugating earnestness, the straightforwardness of narrative which does not explore the poetics of flare and archeological placements of metaphor with a particular class This unfairly limits its mission as well as both sides of the discussion It is thus andI missed many gems but I would not read it for the first time differently The solution comes in rereading it An example of one stumbled upon I will not give details and try not to ruin things for potential readers is when we share a tragedy with another often we make a silent pact that as a unit of two we will forget it What it entails in the fine print never read is that each will walk through numerous lifelong strategies to create a safe distance from one another Even someone close may need to be sacrificed from any form of intimacy to keep pain shuttled at bay.All through this book is quietly rendered how our lives are shaped by the silent pacts we make with others and with ourselves Pacts we never knew we signed much less were notarized and perused endlessly by a team of hidden lawyers It is a cautionary tale yet Russo undercuts it all with a biting humor Most amazing, and this is what elevates this story and he as a writer, it is told by and about the narrator, again a person whose life is crafted by an obsession for vengeance without knowing why or who the vengeance is truly aimed at In another writers hands this could result in an arid flatness Yet, Russo makes him, the story, endlessly fascinating while quietly embedding it in the folds of the reader s mind This takes writerly skill beyond most He deserves a greater abundance of recognition and a label on the cover of this book warning readers to not be fooled by the earnestness of its simplicity Treasures can easily be walked past and never found.