Miss Beryl in Richard Russo’s “Everybody’s Fool”

everybodys-fool-russo-fool_cover“Who is your audience?”

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?)

rhetorical-triangleI love this!

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.)

11 thoughts on “Miss Beryl in Richard Russo’s “Everybody’s Fool”

  1. I’m new to your blog, and had an ulterior motive for reading it until yesterday. A 2016-published novel with good writing? How did that happen? I’m a terror for starting at the start, so will need to find out which was Russo’s first, but you’ve inspired me…

    • Russo is great! (Oh, and I really did like some new novels this year, but he’s a master!) The first novel is Mohawk, set in another town in upstate New York. I very much enjoyed it.

  2. So here’s a non-viral comment. (Who wants a virus this time of year anyway.)

    I loved Nobody’s Fool, both the book and the movie. I loved Sully and Miss Beryl and several other characters, including the dog who was “ruined” by an overdose of tranquilizer.

    I used to bait my students with the question “why do you think the author wrote this poem or story or whatever?” It rarely seemed to occur to them that there might be a motivation other than to get into a high school anthology. Once I suggested that perhaps the writer was trying to make some money, and they were shocked.

    • You’re right, I’m not interested in “going viral!” Horrible phrase!
      I always feel I’m conversing with Russo’s characters because he presents their thoughts and words so vividly. So glad to meet another Nobody’s Fool fan. The new one is equally good, and all the characters are back.
      I can just see your students unable to come up with a motivation for writing. A great question to ask!

  3. Well, you know who I am! 🙂 I get a lot of stupid spam which fortunately gets filtered out for me. I have no wish to go viral – I just want to be able to write about books and stuff in my little space of the Internet and if people like to read it, that’s all I can ask for! As for Russo, I’m intrigued – you always find such interesting writers, Kat! 🙂

  4. I highly recommend Russo’s excellent memoir “Elsewhere.” I also really enjoyed “Bridge of Sighs” although it doesn’t seem to be regarded as one of his best books. Miss Beryl was definitely my favorite character in “Nobody’s Fool.” I’ve read nothing but praise for “Everybody’s Fool.”

    • I haven’t read “Elsewhere” and will look for it. What a great writer he is! I am always glad to meet his fans: somehow I don’t hear about him at blogs (but then I’m often reading bloggers who read only old books, it occurs to me).

  5. Still haven’t read Everybody but loved Nobody so I’m going to watch the movie again to reacquaint myself with those terrific characters. Looking forward to the new one. Glad you liked it so much.

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