Ryan's Reviews > Nobody's Fool

Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo
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's review
Dec 26, 2009

really liked it
Read in January, 2010

I started off a bit slow with this book, feeling that his initial setup and exposition of characters, setting, and plot seemed too reminiscent of the beginning of Empire Falls (I know he wrote this first; I read the other first – still, he begins each with an older man who faces decisions from his past that have led him here, a small town with a long-shot hope of redemption from without, the longed-for older female, the local bar/restaurant where the gossip happens…). But I sure do love Russo’s style, and his talent for character-driven storytelling is definitely one-of-a-kind, and I was quickly won over.

Where to start with this? First of all, it’s massive: 550 pages with small writing. Russo really takes his time in cultivating his scenarios, but they really don’t drag, they just take some time to fully develop and detail the expansive nature of the story. There really isn’t just one plotline or one protagonist; Russo’s focus is spread across the whole town, each player’s role in its past, hope, and ultimate stalemate. The story is too all-encompassing to break down single threads, but I will say that Russo is a master of small-town mentality, city-wise and relationship-wise. And he always keeps the attention, the focus, on the characters, creating as close to real-life humans as you could possibly get, sensationalizing nothing and presenting a character’s flaws and Achilles’ heels as often as their successes – but regardless, you respond with 100% empathy and understanding. All of these characters have their redeeming qualities, and they all come across as “likeable,” even when the details describe them as complete pieces of shit. The main character – Sully – is unreliable, uncommitted, a drifter, a drunk, a gambler, fucks a married woman, runs out on his family: yet you can’t help but root for him. His main antagonist? Equally if not bigger of a piece of shit; yet he also end up being – more or less – likeable. Regardless, the characterization throughout is unbelievable, with time taken to show us multiple sides of many throughout the town: the banker, the 90-year old Sully rents from, the bum who works with Sully and his wife who steals from her dime-store job, the 90 year old owner of the main bar in town, her daughter who runs the place, the one-legged, drunken lawyer who frequents the place, the black cook, and so on and so on.

What I found most strange was that by the end of 550 pages there really wasn’t any resolution to speak of. There are hints certain things find an end of their trajectories, but like life all of these characters continue on with their individual searches, and the reader is left feeling much like a real member is this town, hoping for its eventual resurgence, pulling for its members to mend their ways, and continuingly curious as to what each would be doing now, even after reading.
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12/27/2009 page 28
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