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Nobody's Fool
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message 1: by Felice (new)

Felice | 116 comments First a bit of NY geography
Nobody’s Fool is set in up-state New York about 25 miles north of Albany. North Bath is the fictionalized name for the real town of Gloversville, where Russo grew up, although he no longer lives there. Schuyler Springs, twenty five or so miles north east of North Bath (and thirty five miles north of Albany) is really Saratoga Springs, a successful and upscale town. And it is the case that whereas Gloversville was once a thriving manufacturing center, as were many towns in upstate New York and New England, it lost these jobs and its income base. Saratoga Springs, on the hand, has a thriving horse and harness racing center with betting, which attracts winning horses, such as American Pharaoh, from stables from all over the United States. It also, rightfully, boasts the Saratoga Preforming Arts Center which hosts the New York City Ballet, the Philadelphia Orchestra, a chamber music and opera series, huge rock concerts, and a full season of artistic events in the summer. In addition Skidmore College is located in Saratoga Springs. The fictional Ultimate Escape, which was poor Clive Jr.’s undoing (or perhaps liberation) is now The Great Escape, alas, also located near Saratoga Springs rather than Gloversville. So this book, as are others of Russo’s, is set in this somewhat desperate town, with its sort of dilapidated and fading buildings, which look a bit romantic and quaint to summer escapees from New York City. This area is not the lower Hudson Valley which is now fashionable for people wanting summer homes and where rural destination weddings are held. The opening pages of the novel convey what the future holds in Miss Beryl’s observations about the giant diseased elms that line the town’s main streets. Here is my first question.

Characteristic of Russo’s novels, this book has many themes but because I have introduced the book with a description of the economic situation of this part of New York, let me start by asking what do you think Russo is saying about places like North Bath through the characters of Sully and Rub and Carl Roebuck, and perhaps Peter? The book was written in 1993. Does it resonate with the conflicts regarding social class that seem to animate our political discussions currently?

message 2: by Btiago43 (new)

Btiago43 | 137 comments So, it sounds like everyone is already supposed to have read it. That answers my question about when do we start the discussion. As I said, I'll be getting my copy from the library as soon as it gets here. Sounds like a fascinating book.

message 3: by Harriet (new)

Harriet Lyons (harrietlyons) | 85 comments I spent most of my childhood in Albany, and my mother was a rehabilitation counsellor, whose territory included a lot of towns like Gloversville, some of which were on their way down even in the 50s, while Saratoga was already on its way up. Also, Albany was solid Democrat (old fashioned Tammany Hall type), while the surrounding towns tended to be Republican. Many middle-class types, especially Jews like us, imagined everyone in those towns was like Sully, and sometimes they confirmed our prejudices, while we confirmed theirs. My mother was once asked by a social worker in Glens Falls why their were no Jews on welfare in Glens Falls, and my mother answered "Why would a Jew stay in Glens Falls if he had to be on welfare?" Reading the book, I thought it was in many ways better than Hillbilly Elegy for understanding the Trump voter. I also felt that Sully had a kind of freedom and. (however reluctant) community that was certainly absent from my milieu twenty/five miles away, where I was teased mercilessly at Temple Israel because my clothes came from Lerner Shoppes, and wasn't really accepted at school because we didn't live in the district where most of the Jewish community lived. And families like mine would never tolerate a Sully. I think the freedom and community was why Peter came back.

message 4: by Harriet (new)

Harriet Lyons (harrietlyons) | 85 comments I do know the difference between "there" and "their" but I type on a smartphone!

message 5: by Felice (new)

Felice | 116 comments Hi Harriet,
Albany and its immediate suburbs are still Democratic, but Trump carried all the other upstate communities. Saratoga has a Republican representative in Congress.

message 6: by Ellen (new)

Ellen O'Brien | 64 comments Felice wrote: "First a bit of NY geography
Nobody’s Fool is set in up-state New York about 25 miles north of Albany. North Bath is the fictionalized name for the real town of Gloversville, where Russo grew up, al..."

While I follow national politics religiously, I must admit I didn't consider politics, or even social class, when reading this book which I found delicious. First: I was struck by the "voice" - affectionate, wondering, wise - threaded through it. It reminded me of the voice that my father, a journalist, used in his columns when he traveled with my mother, a sort of quizzical, amused but nonjudgmental, attitude. He even had a name for this persona and referred to my mother as some variant of "she who must be obeyed." But this is all sort of beside the point, isn't it? I mention it just to say that this book brought my father - Irish, a fatalist, a drinker, a storyteller, a wordsmith - back to me. As for the question, the book opens with Sully in some sort of government program - not exactly workers compensation (although he had suffered an injury) or pure unemployment comp since he was expected to go to school to get his benefits.....closing on 60, a man used to making his modest way with his hands, unmotivated by desires of achievement, stability, financial security - floating through life and bound to fail at an assignment (i.e. school) that assumed these motivations. A thinker, yes, but an outdoors kind of guy. As a student, definitely a square peg in a round hole. (Today's coal miners? I'm confident there are "dislocated worker" programs in W. Virginia that have failed to restore miners to their former wage levels....) His affection and affinity for Miss Beryl suggests that he did have a "life of the mind" (as my mother would say) even though he eschewed the trappings. He could smell a rat, a phony, the pretentious. And enjoyed unmasking them. Stupid like a fox. But what a friend he was! The village idiot (Rub), small damaged people (Will), and the cafe manager chained to her mother (Cass).....

message 7: by Camilla (new)

Camilla Trinchieri | 219 comments What I find great about Russo is his empathy,I would say his love, for those struggling with their lives, be it economically or psychologically. What is he telling us about Bath? The truth, it's depressed, but I don't feel there is no 'woe is me', no anger that life hasn't given his characters more (except Clive Jr, who is middle class).Yes, Rub has his wish list, but I think he would have a wish isn't even if he won the lottery. In this presidential election, there was lots of anger

message 8: by Marlene (last edited Jul 09, 2017 01:08PM) (new)

Marlene | 187 comments I have fallen in love with most of the characters in this book, enjoyed their eccentricities, and worried over their very real economic struggles and admired their doggedness. ( Obviously I do not like the bad or mean-spirited guys ) I empathize with the town's failing economy and declining status. When I grew up in Yonkers, the city was undergoing a similar decline-first the blue-collar factory jobs left for the south, then neighborhoods declined, shops closed, schools became troubled and the demographics changed, out of xenophobic fear but often out of real threats. When my parents began to know the people whose muggings were reported in the local press, they, too, felt threatened and left. ( I had long since "moved away") . What makes this book so special, in telling this same sad tale, is that there is so much humor in describing how the characters cope, even when lurching from one mishap to another and unable to escape what Sully called a "bad streak." I couldn't any more than Ruth, stay mad at Sully.

Caroline | 167 comments I have a hard time trying to imagine what the current inhabitants of Bath might make of national politics. And if I transplant the cast of characters in the book--at the ages they are in the book--to 2016, I don't see them as concerned with national politics either. Were they really so insular and unambitious, or did we only come to know a circumscribed part of their lives?

At any rate, Bath owed its brief success to the mineral springs. When they dried up, it was over. Quite a different scenario from the stereotypical Trump voters who saw their jobs outsourced and the industrial strength of their communities dramatically reduced.

I, too, loved the characters. The men, for the most part, seemed content to spend much of their time in repetitive behavior like overaged adolescents. The women were very interesting. Transplant them to 2016, and I bet most, if not all would have voted for Hillary.

Now I have to go back and re-read Everybody's Fool, because I can't remember anything about it!

message 10: by Susan (new)

Susan (SBRS) | 103 comments Just to say I know something of Gloversville from stays in the Adirondacks and meeting a fairly well-off Jewish family from Gloversville itself. My sense is that there was manufacturing there that, by the 60's was beginning to fail, so the economy was not wholly dependent on the nearby Springs. And, of course, Saratoga itself is a thriving (I think) college town, with an added summer influx for the race track and Performing Arts Center.

message 11: by Harriet (last edited Jul 10, 2017 11:29AM) (new)

Harriet Lyons (harrietlyons) | 85 comments I was struck by Sully's realization that he had enjoyed his life. Something that his ex-wife, who strove for respectability above all else, sarcastically accused him of. And his son, raised by the ex, ultimately chose Sully. Nearing the end of a controlled, fairly successful life as a member of the "liberal elite," I tried to imagine a day of eating (and drinking) at will at diners, pizzerias and bars, working as little as possible to survive, saying what I felt like to anyone, and realized it had its charms. Perhaps that's why we have to punish the Sullys of the world by making health care, workman's comp, unemployment insurance, etc. dependent on conforming to our ideals of being "deserving" of assistance. I started thinking about Sully's horrible childhood, and realized that the beatings endured by Sully and his mother and brother, and his father's impaling of a kid on a fence, were caused more by the dad's yearning for respectability than by his drunkenness. There's a fairly consistent theme here.

message 12: by Harriet (new)

Harriet Lyons (harrietlyons) | 85 comments I remember in Grade 7 or 8 learning the major products of many of the towns in upstate New York. Amsterdam was carpets, Rochester was Kodak film, and Gloversville was, in fact, gloves. All outmoded or outsourced now.

message 13: by Joan (new)

Joan Freilich | 85 comments As Camilla points out, a big difference between when the book was written - 1992 - and today is the anger of people like the residents of Bath. I take visitors on neighborhood walks as a Big Apple Greeter, and I was on a subway last week with a Danish family on our way to Morningside Heights. The train was pretty empty mid-morning and we were talking across the aisle when a man who was carrying a hard hat and what might have been a tool kit interrupted and told my visitors that New York was a terrible place, full of greedy super rich people who exploited everyone else, etc. and that they had to leave the City to find out what Americans were really like. While we don't normally talk politics, many of my visitors have suggested that they are don't understand how we could have elected Trump. These people had a glimpse.

message 14: by Btiago43 (new)

Btiago43 | 137 comments Caroline wrote: "I have a hard time trying to imagine what the current inhabitants of Bath might make of national politics. And if I transplant the cast of characters in the book--at the ages they are in the book--..."
Caroline and everybody: I just finished reading the book. Enjoyed it, but IT WAS TOO LONG for a book club book. I belong to another book club, too, locally. I also have a life: chair yoga, art classes, stretch n tone, recorded TV series for after 8 pm at night, advisory council at Senior Center, doctors, rehab, PT, etc. etc. IF YOU PICK LONG BOOKS, GOODBYE. LOVE Y'ALL, BUT GOODBYE!

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