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.)

Reading on Christmas: We Made It through the Holiday!

prozac-holidays-taintor-screen-shot-2013-12-03-at-5-20-47-pmWe made it through another Christmas.  It was foggy and rainy:  too wet for a walk, so we went to the gym.  And then we got out the books we bought at Barnes and Noble for our gift exchange.  They say you can’t read all the time–my father said reading made me a “non-participant in life”–but I say,  You Can and It Didn’t.

everybodys-fool-russo-fool_coverI am racing through  Richard Russo’s brilliant new novel, Everybody’s Fool, a sequel to Nobody’s Fool. (You probably saw the great movie  Nobody’s Fool, with Paul Newman, Bruce Willis, and Melanie Griffith.)

Russo’s new comedy, a pitch-perfect multi-character saga, is set in  North Bath, New York, a run-down small town. (And I guarantee it was never visited by Garrison Keillor!)   Russo chronicles the lives of barflies, misfits, and romance readers, the barely middle-class  and the downwardly-mobile.  Residents envy nearby Schuyler Springs, a prosperous sister town that is a tourist destination and has three colleges.   But even the springs in Bath have dried up. (They’re still bubbling in Schuyler Springs.)  And a horrible sewage-like stench has settled over Bath.  What IS it?

The rich cast of characters is endlessly fascinating.  Sully, the hero of Nobody’s Fool, is 70 years old now, living in a trailer outside the house he inherited from his eighth-grade English teacher, Beryl Peabody.  He has a heart condition, but refuses to have surgery: if he has only a year or two to live, he wants to go out with a bang. His old girlfriend, Ruth, the owner of Hattie’s diner, sees him every day and still occasionally has sex with him, but is focused on family problems:  she is furious that her obese husband, a junk scavenger, has installed an airplane-hangar-size shed in their yard, with the help of Sully, and  terrifed by the violence of her daughter Janey’s ex-husband Roy, just out of  prison.

My favorite character is Raymer, the policeman who was Sully’s nemesis in the first book. He has been elected chief of police, in spite of a campaign slogan malapropism that said,  “We’re not happy till you’re not happy.”  Raymer is depressed and a recent widower:  his beautiful wife, Becca, tripped down the stairs and broke her neck when she was leaving him for a lover she never identified.  Raymer didn’t have a clue she was unfaithful until she found her good-bye note.  With the help of a strange garage door opener found in Becca’s car, he hopes to point and click his way to her lover.  But then he faints at a funeral and falls in the grave and loses the garage door opener. He will do anything to retrieve it…

This book is funny, sad, and charming…and I must admit, terrifying when Russo reveals the consciousness of Roy the ex-con.   Russo is one of the best American writers working today, and though he won the Pulitzer for Empire Falls, he is underrated.  I agree with  T. C. Boyle’s reveiw  in The New York Times Book Review:

Nonetheless, taken together, at over 1,000 pages, the two “Fool” books represent an enormous achievement, creating a world as richly detailed as the one we step into each day of our lives. Bath is real, Sully is real, and so is Hattie’s and the White Horse Tavern and Miss Peoples’s house on Main, and I can only hope we haven’t seen the last of them. I’d love to see what Sully’s going to be up to at 80.