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391 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1997
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 partly in the fact that his department is more savagely divided than the Balkans.I have never closed a book of this author feeling anything but good. There will be humor and sadness, and the story will be a terrific ode to mediocrity. He knows how to apply malapropisms to the lives of his characters in his realistic fiction.
In the course of a single week, Devereaux will have his nose mangled by an angry colleague, imagine his wife is having an affair with his dean, wonder if a curvaceous adjunct is trying to seduce him with peach pits, and threaten to execute a goose on local television. All this while coming to terms with his philandering father, the dereliction of his youthful promise, and the ominous failure of certain vital body functions. In short, Straight Man is classic Russo--side-splitting and true-to-life, witty, compassionate, and impossible to put down.
Either I’m one of these people or I’m not. . . . I should either throw in my lot with them, live among them, my friends and colleagues, or take my respectful leave and find out where I do belong. Other people make their peace with who they are, what they’ve become. Why can’t I? Why live the life of a contortionist, scrunched in among the rafters? So that I can maintain the costly illusion that I am not what my father is? Is this pretense worth the effort? To this reasonable argument I offer my father’s own words. You bet your ass. (281)