Friday, March 7, 2008

Nobody's Fool

Cormac McCarthy and Philip Roth tend to be described as very male authors. And if Nobody’s Fool were Richard Russo’s only novel, I’d have to put him squarely in that same category. Luckily, he’s prolific and shows enough range to transcend easy categorization. Still, any novel featuring a woman who likes to give head so much that she happily falls asleep with a (and possibly any) penis in her mouth like a pacifier has to come from a male brain.

And our fearless protagonist, Donald Sullivan—aka Sully—is the epitome of male stereotypes: He’s a gruff blue-collar worker, picking up the odd sheet rocking/ditch digging/ heavy-shit-moving job where he can. Living in a barely furnished apartment where he’s proudly never cooked a single meal in twenty years, he picks fights, is stubborn as they come, refuses to recognize mistakes (because then he’d be tempted to indulge regret), and has probably never asked for directions in his life. He is completely flawed and yet somehow usually likeable and even sometimes loveable. Russo’s entire novel is populated with characters of this ilk: they react badly to things, blow small events out of proportion, make bad decisions, and struggle to keep their heads above water in a small upstate town that is sinking despite it all.

Russo’s novels (I’ve also read the wonderfully funny Straight Man and less impressive, despite winning the Pulitzer, Empire Falls) tend to be big stories disguised by the small events that comprise them. His language choices—he’s a fan of repetition—mirror the redundancy of many aspects of life. And, also like life, there is humor. Nobody’s Fool won’t have you laughing out loud throughout, but there is an undercurrent that keeps all the oppression of not-so-easy lives at bay.