Straight Man: A Novel
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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 more savagely 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.
finished. “You want someone to asphyxiate you with insecticide?” I say. “Nope,” he says. “I want to die in my sleep.” “Much as you sleep,” Julie says, “there’s a good chance you will.” We go inside, to the kitchen, their only fully furnished room. Russell and I sit down. Blessedly, my daughter and son-in-law have not tried to copy our interior furnishings. Perhaps our stuff is fucked up. Perhaps Julie’s imagination is functional regarding tables and chairs and sofas. In place of our island,
that occurred to you? The piece was well enough written. You have always been talented. I just wish you wouldn’t employ your talents in defense of falsehood. Often your subjects are trivial, and even then … you lack high seriousness, Henry. Weight, for want of a better word. There, I’ve said it. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but the truth is that there’s nothing more shallow than cleverness. You’ve become a clever man.” “I do it for the money,” I respond cleverly. My mother knows well what
shadow of these to pee. I drip at about the same rate as the branches above, a leisurely process that allows for contemplation. Now that I’m not rubbing haunches with Missy in Tony’s hot tub, I can’t help ruminating on her lament that breasts like hers are wasted in a small media market like Railton, a remark that struck me as funny when she said it but sad upon further reflection. It’s Jacob Rose’s and Gracie’s and Rourke’s and Teddy’s and June’s and perhaps my own position in a nutshell. We
other people who just want to be entertained doesn’t make us philosophically incompatible. It just means we shouldn’t go to movies together. The kind of man I am, according to those who know me best, is exasperating. According to my parents, I was an exasperating child as well. They divorced when I was in junior high school, and they agree on little except that I was an impossible child. The story they tell of young William Henry Devereaux, Jr., and his first dog is eerily similar in its facts,
Today’s lecture was on David Copperfield. Out in the hall, his hand on the knob, my father said, “Dickens didn’t care, you see …,” and then he turned the knob and reentered the classroom. “… about the working conditions of the poor. David Copperfield doesn’t object to children working in dark, squalid, unhealthy factories. What seems wrong to David is that such a situation should befall himself, a bright, sensitive child. Dickens’s hero was no crusader after social justice, and neither was his