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Straight Man

4.02  ·  Rating Details  ·  18,867 Ratings  ·  1,946 Reviews
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 partl ...more
Paperback, 391 pages
Published June 9th 1998 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1997)
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B the BookAddict
Mar 06, 2016 B the BookAddict rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE
Recommended to B the BookAddict by: moi! aren't I clever?

Dear Mr Russo,

I've just finishedStraight Man; the fourth of your books that I've read including Empire Falls. I thought Empire Falls was pretty brilliant but in my mind, you should have won a Pulitzer for Straight Man. I would have voted for Straight Man but damn, I'm not on the panel, but if I was, I'd vote for Straight Man.

You know, I had to wait ages to read it; my library didn't have it. So I ordered it from that place with the same name as where the guy who may or may not have shot Kennedy
Jun 18, 2016 ☮Karen rated it really liked it
3.5 stars.
This had parts I found interesting, some very funny scenes, some compassionate, and some where I tuned out. Russo's humor is wry and masculine. Often jokes are made at the expense of others (students, females, academic colleagues, and academia alike are targeted), but also self-deprecating. I adore him, but will probably always compare all his works to Empire Falls, a tough one to live up to. IMO.
Mar 14, 2010 Brad rated it liked it
I remember almost nothing about Richard Russo's Straight Man. I imagine I laughed a couple of times, and I think I enjoyed the reading experience, but there is only one specific thing that I remember from the book itself. More on that later, though, because I want to talk about the peripheral things I remember about Straight Man.

I remember reading it for a Literary Theory class (my first class at my new University) with one of my all time favourite profs, Dr. W---. He admitted, very early into t
Sep 16, 2015 Marianne rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Marianne by: B the BookAddict
"What ails people is never simple, and William of Occam, who provided mankind with a beacon of rationality by which to view the world of physical circumstance, knew better than to apply his razor to the irrational, where entities multiply like strands of a virus under a microscope"

Straight Man is the fourth novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, Richard Russo. William Henry Devereaux Jnr, (Hank) at almost fifty, is interim chairman of the English department at the (chronically underf
Sep 28, 2007 Emily rated it it was amazing
Hilarious!!!! I imagine the guy from "House" playing this role in the film. Anyway, Russo is so funny and satiracle and wonderful and you will love and hate the main character because he will remind you of yourself in so many ways. Fabulous. It bothers me so much when people have such auper high expectations of a novel. IT IS FICTION, people, it isn't supposed to mimic real life, the characters aren't supposed to appear super realistic. The story is supposed to transport you to another time and ...more
Stephen P
Nov 02, 2013 Stephen P rated it really liked it

He lives his life as head of the English Department at a western Pennsylvania University.. Married, he is the father of grown children, the owner of a house and dog. The fifty years of his life has been dedicated to the fine honing of obstinate vengeance, the satisfaction of tripping others up, the culmination not of progressing himself or family but the endless monotone of self-destruction. These are the consequences with which he sculpts himself, along with a sealed isolation protecting him fr
Aug 11, 2008 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People with a twisted sense of humor
Recommended to Amanda by: Bookmarks Magazine
Loved, loved, loved this book. The main character, Hank Devereaux is just a mess, but a likable one. On his academic campus, Hank is the rebel without a cause. He delights in being unpredictible and stirring things up to often hilarious results. However, there's also substance to the novel as Hank, who is nearing his 50th birthday, is coming to terms with the passing of youth and with his own mortality. This situation and the insight granted the reader by Hank's first person narrative makes the ...more
Dec 09, 2007 M rated it it was ok
I'm beginning to wonder if Russo is a one book man. First, I'm getting tired of his smarter than everyone snappy mouthed wife of protagonist role that ran throughout this and Bridge. Second, this has got to be the all time most unlikeable leading male ever, and sometimes that can be fun (I don't know why but I feel that is more true with heroines) but here it was simply irritating. Hank had a constant barrage of supposedly clever lines that fell flat and just made him out to be a jerk and meanwh ...more
Robert W
Sep 18, 2007 Robert W rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who likes campus comedy novels
The Richard Russo books I’ve read have all taken place in decaying New York mill towns. Straight Man varies that by taking place in a decaying Pennsylvania railroad town. Actually, it differs from his other books quite significantly by belonging to another genre—it’s a campus comedy, a genre I associate with writers like David Lodge. Russo does a hell of a good job with it, as would be expected. William Henry Devereaux is the creative writing professor at a small state college, a place where his ...more
Jason Pettus
Aug 28, 2012 Jason Pettus rated it it was amazing
[Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography ( I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.]

I was all excited when I first stumbled across this in the "New Additions" section of the Chicago Public Library's ebook collection, because I thought I had randomly come across Pulitzer winner Richard Russo's newest title just minutes after it had been announced at the website, and therefore was going to
Apr 07, 2007 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read this book at least seven times now, and I never tire of it. In fact, fairly recently, I was loaning a copy to a friend (since I always have one on hand), and thought I'd just glance through a few favorite passages, but ended up re-reading the whole thing _again_! I just can't get enough of this book. It helps, I suppose, that I was once ensconsed in academia, and so I've basically met everyone Russo lampoons so skillfully here. Don't get me wrong: I love the other novels Russo wrote ...more
Jul 25, 2015 Pete rated it it was amazing
After looking over numerous reviews of this book I found the common problem the one and two star reviewers had with Straight Man was either a dislike of the main character or they didn't understand the humor. I'm not sure how much this should worry me? I found that my own sense of humor is eerily similar to the main characters and was laughing consistently throughout the novel.

The title refers to a straight man in a comedy. One who sets the scene for a great punchline. I can easily tell you a wa
Sep 03, 2012 Peter rated it really liked it
I have long avoided academic satires for two main reasons. The first is that I myself am an academic of sorts and I already know how ridiculous I am. Second: the genre has always seemed to me like shooting fish (with PhDs) in a barrel.

But now, I'm going on the academic job market this year, so I've decided some comic relief about my chosen profession might be a good thing. The main reason being: if I can tell myself on some level that it's all a giant cluster-cuss of ego-surfing solipsistic luna
Ron Charles
Dec 13, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it
University life has served as an irresistible subject for some of the funniest satire in modern literature.

After teaching briefly at Sarah Lawrence College, Mary McCarthy set the standard high with "The Groves of Academe" (1952), her acerbic satire of a liberal college for women. Just two years ago Jane Smiley, who teaches at Iowa State, lambasted a Midwestern university in "Moo: A Novel," (Random House) a bestseller that sprawled across dozens of strange and hilarious characters.

The narrator of
Nov 23, 2013 Connie rated it it was ok
Shelves: with-reviews
Meh. 1.5.

I finished it. Barely. That's about all I can say for the book. I bought it for $4 from The Book Barn a while back--after all, I should really read something other than science fiction or fantasy sometimes, right? The problem is, whenever I go outside my book comfort zone, my success rate tends to be fairly low. Ironically, when I went back to The Book Barn today (looking to get rid of the darn thing), they wouldn't take it back! I brought back about 20 books and 25 dvds--and some of t
I don’t want to give Richard Russo’s Straight Man one star, but I feel I must. After the first fifty pages or so, I started to dislike it. The more I read, the more I disliked it. Now that I’ve finished all 391 mostly painful pages, I’m irritated that I allowed myself to get distracted by this frustrating book. I don’t feel as if I learned anything or was even sufficiently entertained. A friend recommended this book to me, telling me it was a story of academic dysfunction, a state we are both fa ...more
Aug 16, 2008 Hung added it
A bitingly funny novel without ever being mean-spirited, Straight Man is a wonderful send-up of the foibles and inanities of academia. Most of my experiences in higher ed have been from the student side of things, but I've taught English Comp, attended numerous fiction writing workshops, and dealt with enough idiosyncratic faculty and administrators to be heartily amused (and somewhat frightened) by the accuracy of Russo's depiction, not only of characters, but of the ridiculous (and plain sad) ...more
Jan 06, 2008 Amy rated it really liked it
William Henry Devereaux Jr. (Hank) is the chair of a bickering English department at West Central Pennsylvania University, beset with budget problems and long-standing personal grievances. It sounds like sort of a dry premise, but the events that unfold over the course of the book (which I don't think takes place in much more than a week or two) are surprisingly funny. And yet it's not a comic novel - the story is told with great sincerity.

The first thing I'll say is that, having read Russo's Em
Brooke Shirts
Jul 01, 2008 Brooke Shirts rated it liked it
Ahhh. Never has a book made me feel so good about not going into academia.

William "Hank" Henry Devereaux, Jr. is the embattled head of a rivalry-tastic English department in a crumbling liberal arts college. Over the novel's four days, all heck breaks loose -- while his wife is out of town, Hank's department goes haywire, his daughter's marriage dissolves, his nose is mutilated by a coworker, he threatens to kill a goose on local television . . . oh, there's a drunken episode involving a hot tub
Jul 20, 2016 Jeff added it
Shelves: read-2016
Henry Devereaux Jr. is the sone of a famous author and is a once famous author himself. He is now the head of the English department at a small Pennsylvania college. He and the rest of the school are facing downsizing and budget issues. Pretty banal stuff. Until Henry threatens to kill a duck every day until he gets his budget. Then the surreal romp begins. Excellent, funny read.

Couple quotes that stand out to me :

"It's later than it should be, and I'm farther gone than I should be, and the mom
Benjamin Kahn
Jan 29, 2016 Benjamin Kahn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't like this book. The protagonist was a smug prick - I'd like to use a more polite term, but prick is so fitting. I came close to quitting around page 219 because I found him so unlikeable. In the end, I soldiered on until the book came to its unsatisfying conclusion. The epilogue where Russo tells you how everything works out was gruelling as I found I didn't care about any of the characters or their fates. And there was a certain self-satisfied smugness in the writing made it even more ...more
Sep 25, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it
I must admit, I do enjoy a good campus novel and when I heard about Straight Man by Richard Russo I knew I had to read it as soon as I could. The story spouted from a real life situation Richard Russo had teaching at a small State University. Having made friends with the Dean of the university he found himself in a conversation about the budget. Year after year, the same thing happened and while walking past a duck pond the Dean jokingly complained that he would have to threaten to kill a duck a ...more
May 02, 2011 Dave rated it did not like it
I really disliked this book. Mostly, it was the main characters superiority complex and his sarcastic humor that all of the other characters (and reader)have to endure that made this book so hard to take. The sarcasm just goes on and on. It becomes very tiring.

This book is supposed to be funny. I am not sure why a 50-year-old males inability to pee is so humorous, but this joke was replayed several times. The sarcasm is supposed to be clever, but it comes off as juvenile and anything but funny.
David Lentz
Jun 20, 2011 David Lentz rated it it was amazing
The novel is droll, dry, wry, witty. An endless stream of one-liners and punchlines that roll off the tongue of William Henry Devereaux, Jr., an English professor at a state college in central Pennsylvania. Having read Empire Falls, the protagonist in this novel is more proactive, decisive and optimistic. I enjoy the good natured wit of Russo and the way that he rounds off his story lines like a refreshing ellipse. His characters are fully drawn and unique individuals with eccentricities and nua ...more
Mar 03, 2010 Carol rated it really liked it
William Henry Devereux is a college professor and this novel focuses on the little group of professors with whom he works. They do not get along and are very competitive and afraid of being let go. Devereux and his family were the first to buy a lot and build a house on a hill in this western Pennsylvania town in the "rust belt".Then one by one, his
colleagues bought lots around him and became his neighbors even though
he moved outside of town to escape them. This book is pretty funny. One of hi
Oct 16, 2012 Carol rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-star-rated
I read this book a couple of years ago and registered my thoughts in my drop box. I just recently read a review by one of my "goodreads" friends and was reminded that I had read this great story, so here are my thoughts that I recorded then (before I was a member of "goodreads":

Mr. Russo continues to rise on my personal list of favorite authors. This is the story of William Henry (Hank) Devereaux, Jr., a middle-aged acting chairman of a college English department. Hank is having a midlife crisis
Dec 25, 2012 Chris rated it liked it
At first I found this book merely "funny" -- in an ongoing-chuckle (rather than laugh-out-loud) sort of way. Naturally it reminded me of my own 6 years as a grad student/adjunct professor in English departments, with perhaps even more backbiting than we graduate students were aware of.

It seemed to me that the novel, set in an English department in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, made excessive use of gags - our English professor hero donning a fake nose and glasses before the local TV crew
Aug 24, 2010 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction

William Henry Deveraux Jr. is the interim chair of a completely divided English department at a second-rate university in central Pennsylvania. He has a daughter who is building a house she can't afford, a wife who teaches poor children and supports him with a love and affection he isn't sure he deserves, and colleagues who seem to hate him, envy him, like him but are disappointed in him, or some combination of the three.

In the course of telling Deveraux's story for a few climactic months during
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This has got to be one of the quirkiest novels I've ever read.
Funniest sentence in the whole book:

"It's not an easy thing to be left holding a piece of fruit during introductions."

Other great lines:

"I'm not a _____________, but I can play that role."

"He was a small man. Left-handed. He walked with a limp. He served in India. So much is obvious, but beyond this I can tell you nothing except that he may have recently eaten asparagus."

This is the fourth Russo book I've read, and I seem to be in the
Manik Sukoco
Jan 06, 2016 Manik Sukoco rated it really liked it
Hank Devereaux, temporary department chair and determined wild card, revels in creating harmless chaos in his little corner of academia, and so rarely gets to play that coveted "straight man" role. He's a wisecracker who intentionally tries to hold the bad stuff in life at bay. He's a convincing, friendly point-of-view man, however, and his voice succeeds at drawing us into this hilarious, poignant novel of academy.
Continuing funding slashes have got rumors of staff cutbacks running rampant, and
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  • Moo
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  • The Nervous System
  • Election
  • Blue Angel
  • The Lay of the Land
  • The Rebel Angels (Cornish Trilogy, #1)
  • The Bear Went Over the Mountain
  • The Sweet Hereafter
  • The Dog of the South
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  • Lucky Jim
RICHARD RUSSO is the author of seven previous novels; two collections of stories; and Elsewhere, a memoir. In 2002 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, which like Nobody’s Fool was adapted to film, in a multiple-award-winning HBO miniseries.
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“Which is why we have spouses and children and parents and colleagues and friends, because someone has to know us better than we know ourselves. We need them to tell us. We need them to say, "I know you, Al. You are not the kind of man who.” 27 likes
“As I drift back into sleep, I can't help thinking that it's a wonderful thing to be right about the world. To weigh the evidence, always incomplete, and correctly intuit the whole, to see the world in a grain of sand, to recognize its beauty, its simplicity, its truth. It's as close as we get to God in this life, and reside in the glow of such brief flashes of understanding, fully awake, sometimes for two or three seconds, at peace with our existence. And then back to sleep we go.” 16 likes
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