Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo

Life is but a joke*.

Just ask Bob Dylan. I’ve recently had a string of rather aggravating, melancholy days. The shit has hit the fan more than once, to put it eloquently. Today was the final straw; I’ll set the scene for you. It’s 100+ degrees, not a cloud in sight – so it’s sweltering. Around 2:00 pm, I receive a call that there are donations waiting for the library. 15 large boxes of musty books laden with what I hope is not rodent excrement, delivered straight from a local hoarder’s garage. Text books from the ’30’s, ’40’s, ’50’s,‘60’s, and ’70’s? Yes. A tour pamphlet from The Tower of London circa 1971? Yes. Kitschy British women’s magazine from the early ’80’s? Yes. All the books I could possibly want (in Dutch, no less)? Yes. My coworker is wearing a dress and heels. It would be impossible for her to help, of course. I am, for the first time, wearing my new, strappy sandals. No one should move heavy objects in new shoes, if that’s not a rule, it should be. So I walk the quarter mile out to the drop zone, carting the loudest dolly imaginable. I proceed to move 300 pounds of books, over several (very public, you can’t miss a contraption that approximates the sound of a hyena dying with every turn of the wheel) trips, back to the library. I’m hot, sweaty, dust-covered and dirty, limping with brand new Alabama-sized blisters on both feet.  Time: 3:00 pm, budget meeting begins. Hi, I’m Rory, clearly I don’t know how to shower…can the library have more money? (I did somehow manage not to die of shame whilst advocating for better funding, it was a near thing though.)

Nobody's Fool

I’m not known for my luck or my timing. Obviously. Neither is Sully. Donald Sullivan, if you’re being proper. It’s the 1980’s in Bath, New York, a former resort town where the luck ran dry (both figuratively and literally). The town’s hot springs mysteriously dried up about 200 years earlier and the town’s been in decline ever since. Sully is as determined as a chronic underachiever can be. Hardly working and working hard – when it suits.

Throughout his life a case study underachiever, Sully — people still remarked — was nobody’s fool, a phrase that Sully no doubt appreciated without ever sensing its literal application — that at 60, he was divorced from his own wife, carrying on halfheartedly with another man’s, estranged from his son, devoid of self-knowledge, badly crippled and virtually unemployable — all of which he stubbornly confused with independence.

‘Nobody’s Fool’ is the story of a failing small town that never loses its sense of humor or derision. The characters are a mix of nosy, hard working, quick thinking individuals who are intricately involved in each other’s business.  The novel ‘s themes range from luck, infidelity, free will, responsibility, and, like most Russo novels, forgiveness.  The strength of the story lies in the dialogue and the characters, both are charming and witty. While there might be one too many subplots floating around, the novel still manages to tie them up by the end. Sully may not be perfect, but he is perfectly enjoyable as a ne’er-do-well whose integrity is in direct proportion to his humor. As you might imagine, he is a very funny guy.

I’m about to fuck up, he thought clearly, and his next thought was, but I don’t have to. This was followed closely by a third thought, the last of this familiar sequence, which was, but I’m going to anyway.

It’s heartbreaking, humorous, and will leave you nostalgic for small town life. Preferably with the presence of Sully. Although nearly all of Richard Russo’s novels are special to me, this is one of my favorites.  He’s an author who manages to be compassionate without being saccharine, realistic without being bleak. Russo, quite simply, reminds me that the joke is not always on me (no matter how it feels) and that the world might be a good place after all – even if I did mortify myself in front of my coworkers. Nobody’s Fool was a lovely end to an otherwise ridiculous day. 5/5.

P.S. The movie version of this novel, starring Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, and Bruce Willis (as a character actor, no less) isn’t so bad.

Five Guys

Sully spends far too much time in the local diner. So I am recommending the American diner staple, cheeseburger and fries. Don’t make it at home, if you’re in the US, just go to Five Guys Burger and Fries (warning vegetarian friends, their veggie burger leaves MUCH to be desired). If they served it (hint: they don’t), I’d pair the meal with Session Black (made by Full Sail, description says ‘Session Black, on the other hand, lets you have your dark beer and drink it, too. With just a hint of roasty chocolate character, Session Black is short, dark, and totally drinkable. At long last, a dark beer that doesn’t drink like a meal.’ I promise you, it’s all true).

*If I’ve had enough to drink, you might get me to admit Jimi Hendrix’s version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ is better than Dylan’s. Supply the drinks and we’ll see.


13 thoughts on “Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo

  1. Great post. Your story sounds like a nightmare, and I totally agree, it should be a rule that you can’t move things in new shoes. This book sounds great, I’m going to have a look for it, and the movie as well to be honest.
    I’m drooling just looking at that burger (luckily for me, I live in Oz…no Five Guys Burger here!)
    I love your side note at the end…if I have enough to drink, I might just back you up on that.


    1. It was not my best day, that’s for certain. New shoes are always a risk, but when you work in a library, manual labor is usually not in the job description.

      It pains me to admit that Dylan might have recorded the lesser version, but nobody’s perfect all the time.

      And give Five Guys time, I’m convinced their aim is to take over the world.


  2. You’ve convinced me, I’ll read it. Bad days make the good ones better, so they say. At the very least you got an intro out of it, so that’s got to be worth at least 1 blister. Maybe more Maryland size than Alabama size, mind.

    Also: Tough call. I prefer listening to the Hendrix version, but I can’t bring myself to say it’s better. Or can I?

    Yes. Yes I can. If only for the bit with the wah-wah pedal. Because it’s not just about dirty movie soundtracks.


    1. There is an unfortunate rumor that even Dylan believed Hendrix’s version was better. So, if Dylan’s always right…

      I don’t know if bad days make good ones better. If anything, I think it decreases one’s expectations until you come to expect less (maybe that’s the point?). Because what’s a good day in comparison? One where I’m not covered in mouse droppings? Anyways, perspective I guess. Today’s better, because all I’ve ever wanted is people to read.what I tell them to.


  3. Ugh! New shoes! Blisters! Heat! Yuck. I think I prefer Jimmy’s version of All Along The Watchtower to Dylan’s, but it is a close call. Hope your evening included nice COLD beverages!


    1. The evening ended worse than the work day (I was informed by someone that I need therapy. Ha! I don’t need therapy, that’s what blogging is for). At any rate, Wednesday is the end of my work week, which is always cause for celebration and, in last night’s case, tequila.

      The shoes are evil. Absolutely evil (things can be cute and evil, right?). I have 6 blisters.

      You may be right about Jimmy vs. Bob, but I haven’t had enough to drink today to make that call yet. Give me a few hours. 😉


    1. That is essentially what happened, so it ended well enough and I don’t have to go back until Saturday. I’m currently pretending that the piles sitting in my office aren’t there and will continue to do so until I absolutely can’t.

      Of course I think you should read this one, especially since you liked Empire Falls (it’s a toss up as to which one is my favorite).

      Shitty days happen (not infrequently in a library). Next time I would prefer it not to happen all at once. 🙂


    1. I’d hate to think what it would be like if it got worse. I probably shouldn’t say that…

      It definitely wouldn’t hurt to read it first. And The Devil All the Time…? Still slated for the weekend? (Despite my constant prodding of people to read this one, you’ll be the first person to actually do so.)


  4. I went through a Russo phase some years ago. I must have read this right? Why is my memory so TERRIBLE?

    I sincerely hope that your weekend is AWESOME 😀


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