In Richard Russo’s brilliant novel, Everybody’s Fool, he charms his audience. And he is not the only one to consider audience. His characters consider the relation of storytelling to audience: the loquacious Sully changes the stories he tells according to his barfly friends’ reactions.
My favorite character, Raymer, the inarticulate chief of police, also muses on audience. He is so bored by a narcissistic minister’s rambling eulogy at a funeral that he flashes on a question often posed by the late Beryl Peoples, his eighth-grade teacher: Who does the minister imagine the audience to be? (I LOVE MISS BERYL!)
If you haven’t read Russo, Everybody’s Fool is the perfect place to start. It is quite simply my favorite book of the year. Sure, it’s a sequel to Nobody’s Fool, but it can be read as a standalone. Russo’s sharp style, shrewd observations, and witty dialogue made me remember why I used to love modern fiction: GOOD WRITING.
Russo chronicles the exploits of the down-and-out inhabitants of a run-down small town in upstate New York, North Bath. The town literally stinks: a sewage-like fug has settled over North Bath, and no one has figured out its source.
The multi-character saga centers on Raymer, a depressed, blundering widower who was elected chief of police despite his bungled campaign slogan: “We’re not happy till you’re not happy.” This slogan pretty much sums up Raymer’s problems: he can’t communicate and thus is horrified at the prospect of making a speech about Beryl Peoples at the town’s celebration of her life: they are renaming the middle school after Miss Beryl.
“When you write,” she’d advised Raymer and his classmates, “imagine a rhetorical triangle.” At the top of their essays she always drew two triangles, the first representing the essay the student had written and the second, a differently shaped one that would supposedly help improve it. As if bringing in geometry–another subject that gave Raymer fits–would clarify things. The sides of the old lady’s triangle were Subject, Audience, and Speaker, and most of the questions she scribbled in the margins of their papers had to do with the relationship between them. What are you writing ABOUT? she often wanted to know, drawing a squiggly line up the page to the S that marked the subject side. Even when they were writing on a subject she herself had assigned, she’d insist that the subject was unclear. Other times she’d query: Just who do you imagine your AUDIENCE to be? (Well, you, Raymer always wanted to remind her, though she steadfastly denied this was the case.) What are your readers doing right now? What leads you to believe they’d be interested in any of this? (Well, if they weren’t, why had she assigned the subject to begin with? Did she imagine he was interested?)
Who is my audience?
Uhhhhhh. Bloggers, bots, and readers? Three bloggers and one reader left comments on yesterday’s post, as did 98sherri, who says my “blog can go viral” if only I click on her website. 98sherri is such a bot! I deleted her comment.
Let me know who you are, readers!
(But I won’t try to crack your identity, I promise.)