If you loved Nobody’s Fool by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo, expect to feel reunited with old friends in Everybody’s Fool, which catches up with the stubborn but lovable “Sully” Sullivan and his neighbors in North Bath, New York, 10 years after we last left them.
The characters are older, the town is a bit worse for the wear, but Russo’s ear for dialogue and human relationships is the same, making this follow-up novel an utter delight. As The New York Times’ review put it, “taken together, at over 1,000 pages, the two ‘Fool’ books represent an enormous achievement, creating a world as richly detailed as the one we step into each day of our lives.” Get an overview of Everybody’s Fool in this excellent piece from our friends at Humanities Tennessee / Chapter 16, or read an excerpt, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal, here.
We are thrilled to join with our Salon@615 partners to host Richard Russo next Tuesday, May 31, at the Nashville Public Library. Meanwhile, here’s our exclusive interview with Russo about small towns, laughter as a survival skill, and the sequel he never intended to write.
At one point in Everybody’s Fool, Roy says to Sully, “I guess you don’t think people can change.” How did you decide how much each character would change in the time elapsed between Nobody’s Fool and Everybody’s Fool?
RR: My characters from Nobody’s Fool haven’t changed much, but their circumstances have. Sully’s luck has changed, leaving him relatively well-off, for him a new experience. Officer Raymer, his old nemesis, has failed upward and is now the chief of police. Carl Roebuck is still sex-obsessed, but prostate surgery has left him temporarily impotent. Otherwise, these characters are like old friends that you haven’t seen in a long time — still the people you remember, still recognizable, and yet different, too. Readers will recognize Sully, even as they sense he’s different now, different because I’ve changed since I last looked in on him.
Out of a whole town full of characters, how did you decide who to bring back for this book?
RR: Some of the decisions about who to bring back were made for me. Miss Beryl was in her eighties and having mini-strokes in Nobody’s Fool, so it seemed to me that she’d have died. That said, she’s still every bit as present in the book as its living characters. The plot of the earlier novel gets jump-started when Sully’s son and grandson unexpectedly become part of his life again, and for the purposes of symmetry it seemed right for them to set this book in motion by leaving again. I love sequels where minor characters from earlier books become the protagonists of in the sequel (like the brother in Life After Life and A God in Ruins); hence Raymer now takes center stage.
All your books deal with serious themes — mortality, fear, people attempting to reconcile the life they’re living with the life they expected — but they’re all funny, too. How important is humor to the stories you’re telling and in your everyday life?
RR: Humor is vital to my stories because of their darkness, not in spite of it. I learned from Twain and Huck Finn that if you plan to write about cruelty and ignorance and violence and other dark themes, you do well to keep your readers laughing along the way.
Are any of your other books ripe for a sequel?
RR: I have no plans to write another sequel. But then again I had no plans to write this one.
Small towns make for great storytelling. What’s the most hopeful story you see unfolding in small towns across America right now? And the saddest?
RR: Most of the small towns I write about—like Gloversville New, York, where I grew up—have been decimated by the loss of the industry that gave them a reason for being. The ones that survive and prosper do so, I think, by not trying to replace a single big loss with a single big gain. They don’t try to replace a General Electric plant with a General Motors plant. Rather they entice twenty smaller employers that may have a symbiotic relationship. The saddest stories are of towns that can’t shake themselves loose from a vividly remember past and continue to wait for that past to repeat itself, for the mill to reopen, for all those jobs to come back, and with them the community’s lost purpose and identity.
Best sequels (or worst sequels) you’ve ever read?
RR: Best sequels? Well, the Rabbit books, of course. And Richard Ford’s books about Frank Bascombe. I also like Larry McMurtry’s books that revisit Duane at various points in his life. Less successful, to my mind, were his sequels to Lonesome Dove, but that might be because Dove was such a great novel to begin with. Maybe you only get one of those.
Your books make us laugh. What makes you laugh?
RR: Life itself makes me laugh, when it isn’t breaking my heart. Human foibles are the stuff of great entertainment — our pride and vanity, our need to think of ourselves as the center of things despite compelling evidence to the contrary.
Most unusual or memorable interaction you’ve ever had with a reader?
RR: When I was touring with my second novel, The Risk Pool, I spotted in the audience a man who looked like he’d come in off a construction site. He was wearing work boots and filthy jeans and a well-worn denim shirt. One eye was swollen nearly shut (a workplace injury?). Here, I told myself, was the kind of guy I wrote about. Was I to finally meet my ideal reader? What would he think of me? Would my stories strike him as true or fraudulent? He stood in the back of the room as I read, near the table where the bookstore folks had been kind enough to set out some veggies and cheese and some wine, his one good eye trained on me.
At the end of the reading, people got in line to get their books signed, and I lost track of the man until one of the store employees, shouted “Hey!” When everyone turned to look, there was my ideal reader guzzling wine straight out of a two-liter wine bottle. Nor did he stop until it was gone, whereupon he slammed the bottle, turned on his heel, and left the store with wobbly dignity and without saying what he thought of me or my stories.
Favorite thing about going to bookstores?
RR: Writing is basically a pretty lonely business. Meeting readers forces me out into the world and sharpens my social skills, which otherwise atrophy. Or so my wife tells me.
What are you reading and loving these days?
RR: In galleys I just finished David France’s powerful new book on the first decade of the AIDS epidemic, How to Survive a Plague. At the moment I’m reading Maggie O’Farrell’s forthcoming This Must Be the Place, which is both brilliant and wildly entertaining. Every night before going to sleep I allow myself three or four letters from Meanwhile There Are Letters, the wonderful correspondence between Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald.