Moving to a new place is hard. You have to hook up utilities, meet new people, build a mental map, and maybe a good place to eat. You’re not going to just read Nobody’s Fool; you’re going to become a resident in Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo. I say that because the novel takes some work to enter. It’s not immediately easy. But, when you do find your place, you discover breakfast at Hattie’s where the regulars drop-in every day. There will be a barstool for you at the Horse and you can see the ill-thought-out banners blowing across Main street. Most importantly, you’ll see Sully at one of those places.
The novel has an ensemble cast, but revolves around Sully. He’s sixty-years-old and rents a flat from the widow Mrs. Beryl. Sully’s worked odd construction jobs all his life, fought in WWII, has a busted knee, partial disability and is itching to get back to work. In the beginning of the novel, he has the foresight to see he has a “stupid streak” beginning. Nothing he can do will stop the stupid streak, at least, according to Sully, so he plunges ahead.
To complicate Sully’s life, his adult son with whom he’s sort of estranged, comes back to town and the two men try to navigate their failings as fathers and the ghosts of their childhoods. Mixed through all of this is Russo’s sense of humor, which he displays in funny dialogue and some outrageous scenes.
I enjoyed Nobody’s Fool for two reasons. One is that I feel like I know Sully. He doesn’t take any shit. He can’t seem to get ahead in life. He’s full of pride and hard to nail down. If you’ve lived in a small town, chances are you’ve met someone like Sully. He’s a pain in the ass, but the town wouldn’t be the same without him.
The other reason I enjoyed Nobody’s Fool is the ensemble cast of characters. It reminds me a little bit of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days, except the humor is far more understated and drama grittier. What you find though are a dozen or more characters that make the town of North Bath breath. They have small story arcs throughout the novel that at times intersect with Sully’s or just go spinning off into their own endings, taillights in the night.
So, become a resident in Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo. Buy an old, Victorian house. Get Sully and Rub to fix the thing up. Just don’t charge them by the hour.