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Straight Man

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  24,503 ratings  ·  2,511 reviews
William Henry Devereaux, Jr., spiritually suited to playing left field but forced by a bad hamstring to try first base, is the unlikely chairman of the English department at West Central Pennsylvania University. Over the course of a single convoluted week, he threatens to execute a duck, has his nose slashed by a feminist poet, discovers that his secretary writes better fi ...more
Paperback, 391 pages
Published June 9th 1998 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1997)
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Hans "It's hard to be the straight man in the English deparment" he says because everyone is smart, clever, and cutting.…more"It's hard to be the straight man in the English deparment" he says because everyone is smart, clever, and cutting.(less)

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Average rating 4.01  · 
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 ·  24,503 ratings  ·  2,511 reviews

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Jim Fonseca
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Another good story from Richard Russo – I previously reviewed Empire Falls.

This one is studded with humor. It’s really an academic novel, centered on a 49-year old professor (mid-life crisis?) at a lower-tier university, perhaps a branch campus, in a by-passed town in Pennsylvania. He is in the “sandwich generation” with a wife, whom he loves, who is a school principal, and two daughters. One married daughter lives in town and they worry about her financial situation and that she might be in an
Dec 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
For the same reason that I love reading David Sedaris, I loved reading Straight Man: humour. For the same reason that I enjoyed Less, I would recommend Straight Man: literary optimism. Both are rare birds... at least, on my bookshelf. Since when does a great book written by a serious writer not only offer laughs but also a gentle landing?

To be fair, it almost seems like I go out of my way to avoid gentle landings. I *like* getting crash-tested, on a literary level, at least. But once in a while
B the BookAddict
Aug 23, 2013 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
Richard Russo is one of my favorite authors. His books are always embedded in forlorn towns, circling around Dilapidated Central, suffering blue-collar havens, podunk as can be, with sell-by-dates splashed all over it. The people, towns, souls and minds have lost their initial charm while slowly sliding into obscurity. The atmosphere is always a bit depressing. The stories are always slow-moving, and satirical social commentary becomes the mainstay of all the conversations everywhere.

Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
Life's a duck!
... or a goose?
Sometimes you just have to grab it by the throat and give it a good shake if you want to make sense of it.

As I tell my students, all good stories begin with character, and Teddy's rendering of the events fails entirely to render what it felt like to be William Henry Devereaux, Jr., as the events were taking place.

Richard Russo strikes [gold] again!
I definitely managed to get into the mind of Hank, an English teacher at a small university in Railton, Penns
Jonathan K
Sep 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 24, 2009 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
Oct 27, 2012 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.
Betsy Robinson
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
William Henry “Hank” Devereaux is temporary chair of the humanities department of a bad community college with budget problems in Railton, PA. Hank is a scamp, a man who can’t seem to take anything seriously, and therefore this book is sometimes hilarious—a romp through the inane political infighting of academia from a man in the throes of a midlife crisis.
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 ta
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I have read enough of Richard Russo’s novels to become very familiar with his style of writing and storytelling. The types of characters he creates, the settings in which he places his characters, how he builds his characters and the type of conflict he creates in his stories. While some level of predictability comes with this familiarity, I continue to enjoy Russo’s work. For one thing, he makes me laugh. I also enjoy his characters and find myself rooting for them despite their insistence on r ...more
Aug 28, 2007 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
Jul 28, 2014 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
Stephen P
Oct 29, 2013 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
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
Stephanie Gardiner-Walsh
I needed a laugh and this was it. A story of a disfunctional English department, a midlife crisis, and a goose, this novel made me laugh at our plight as academics. the last chapter left me hanging-the epilogue completed the story.... with a one liner. the audiobook was well done, as well.
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Well, I put off writing this review of Richard Russo’s Straight Man long enough so many of details that I enjoyed so much while reading are fading and hiding somewhere in the back of my mind. But I won’t let that stop me from sharing what I do remember. Russo’s protagonist, Henry “Hank” Devereaux, Jr. is a professor of English at a third rate college tucked into a rural corner of Pennsylvania. He is now in his fifties but was the promising bright young man when they hired him: a successful no
Dec 09, 2007 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
Jul 11, 2008 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
J.K. Grice
Dec 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
To me, there is no finer working American author than Richard Russo. STRAIGHT MAN was published 20 years ago, but it still resonates as a very humorous and engaging work of fiction. Russo does a serviceable job with our main protagonist, Hank Devereaux; at least in regard to our maintaining an interest in Hank's personality, musings, and adventures. The supporting cast of characters is also well rounded and fleshed out. Hank may be an English professor, but just like everybody else, he shares th ...more
Sep 03, 2012 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
Oct 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Douglas by: Diane Barnes
To my surprise, (the late) Richard Russo's satire caused me to break into a belly laugh with his use of the word asparagus.
A brilliant wordsmith and storyteller.
Frankly, it is embarrassing to disclose that it has taken me this long to discover his brilliance.
Nov 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Satire that feels really accurate. This is basically every older male chair of an English (or any other liberal arts) department.
Mar 20, 2015 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
Jason Pettus
Jul 06, 2012 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
Nov 07, 2013 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
Robert W
Sep 18, 2007 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

This reading group pick is Richard Russo's fourth novel. William Henry Devereaux, Jr is the chairman of the English department at a small Pennsylvania university. Campus politics, budget issues and changing mores should make Will's job stressful but he appears to be above it all with his witty, carefree but rebellious manner. Is he though?

He wanted to be a novelist yet only has one slim book from his younger years to his credit. He has huge daddy issues, a detachment from his grown daughters,
Apr 07, 2007 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
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
This made me laugh out loud which is something I never do when reading, even a really hilarious book. A down-at-heel college professor is bored with his job and deals with office politics and in-fighting among colleagues, it is a scream and ends on a chuckle which is hard to do.
Not much to say about this one. I was highly disappointed, reading this due solely because of my affinity for Russo's Pulitzer Prize winning "Empire Falls". This seemed as if it were written by a completely different author. The goose on the cover honestly gives the deceiving impression that this is funny or silly. Neither of which it is. Maybe it tries. An attempt in which it failed miserably.

Mundane and uninteresting stories fill the novel, the telling of a week in the protagonist's middle ag
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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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