Guest contributor: Bill Lundgren

Lundgren’s Lounge: “Everybody’s Fool” by Richard Russo

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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Over the course of a rich and varied reading life, I find myself returning to the pleasures of an engaging story, well-told, again and again. Excursions to the academic and literary fringes (and too often, the fiction pages of the New Yorker) reveals a miasma of intellectual postmodern tomfoolery that leads this reader, unfulfilled, back to the power of a simple story, offered up by the hands of a master story-teller. Everybody’s Fool, a sequel to the much loved Nobody’s Fool, by Richard Russo, is the quintessential example of just such a story and just such a writer.

russo-foolThere are few pyrotechnics in Russo’s writing. Instead there is faith in the power of story and the careful craft of storytelling to entertain and perhaps edify. The genesis of Everybody’s Fool is by now well known; author Russo heard a rumor, perhaps apocryphal, about a police chief in coastal Maine who found an unfamiliar garage door opener in his wife’s car. The ensuing paranoia led the hapless chief to spend his days driving slowly through the streets of surrounding villages, attempting to open garages with the mysterious garage door opener. The conceit is beguiling and the kind of thing that a reader will turn over and over in their mind, surfacing while you’re pumping gas or grocery shopping or engaged in any of the quotidian tasks that make up our days—because it is both believable and so very, very strange.

In Everybody’s Fool  Russo returns to the upstate hamlet of North Bath, NY and the sometimes exasperating and irascible but always endearing characters that live there.

As Russo’s longtime editor Gary Fisketjohn wrote, this is  “… a book full of humor, heart, hard times and people we know inside and out who are lovable—and strikingly human—possibly because of their faults.” It is this talent for universalizing his characters’ stories that distinguishes Russo’s novels. In a recent interview, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin discusses what the impact of losing her parents at a young age had upon her writing. She says, “… it made me want to tell stories of people… to somehow bring them back to life…” (because) “… it is stories that keep people alive.” And this is what seems to motivate Russo—he is clearly very fond of the citizens of West Bath (well, most of them anyway), though he does not hesitate to share with us all of their various foibles. And in telling their stories, he is keeping them alive… and we, his readers are the fortunate beneficiaries.

In the fictional universe of North Bath, Russo has once again brought us the story of everyman (and everywoman) and in the process reasserted his role as America’s storyteller.

bill-lundgrenBill Lundgren, reader, critic, blogger, athlete, teaches at Southern Maine Community College.

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