I’m so tired of being everybody’s fool.
Twenty-three years ago, a wonderful book entitled Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo was published. Set in upstate New York in a small town called North Bath (thinly veiled and thought to be Schuylerville) adjacent to Schuyler Springs (again, thinly veiled and thought to be Saratoga Springs), the story revolved around Donald “Sully” Sullivan – a middle-aged, stubborn and cantankerous man who chose to be faithful only to his nature – independent and undependable – and yet Sully was a good guy. At the end of each day, his destination of choice was a bar stool in the local watering hole where he gave as good as he got. Although Sully was a neglectful husband and father, he had an abundance of charm and wit which endeared him to many, especially readers.
In 1994, the film adaptation of the book was released starring Paul Newman as Donald “Sully” Sullivan and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Officer Raymer. Both actors gave a tremendous performance although the camera was primarily focused on Newman who nailed Sully so well that 20 years later, whenever I hear the name “Sully,” I think of Paul Newman. If you haven’t read Nobody’s Fool or seen the movie, do both before reading Everybody’s Fool, the sequel to Nobody’s Fool.
Everybody’s Fool is the book that fans of Russo have been waiting years for because readers believe there was still a story to tell. It’s now 10 years later and Sully is closing in on 70 and although his body is failing him, he is as funny, witty, and calculating as he was in Nobody’s Fool. Getting the best of anyone who tries to exert authority over him is still Sully’s modus operandi although he has moved beyond stealing the snow blower from his one-time nemesis and employer to stealing car boots placed on his often ticketed truck, much to the frustration of the slightly dim-witted chief of police, Doug Raymer who ran for election under the slogan “I’m not happy until you’re not happy” although he meant “I’m not happy until you’re happy” but didn’t catch the typo, making him the laughing stock of the town and “everybody’s fool.”
The 477-page novel takes place over a few days when the lives of several characters collide in a shit storm, of sorts. All the old characters are back including Sully’s best friend, Rub who suffers from a stutter and “for the privilege of spending the whole day with his best friend in the whole wide world, Rub wouldn’t just stand in liquid shit, he’d eat it, too.” Carl Roebuck, the local contractor that Sully does freelance work for is still in the construction business but preoccupied with getting a hard-on instead of running a profitable enterprise. Vera, Sully’s ex-wife is in a nursing home suffering from dementia while Ruth, his former mistress is still serving up cold beers every night while thinking “how nice it would be to live in a world without men.”
It is impossible to read Everybody’s Fool without picturing Paul Newman as Sully because the magic of the book is that the words really sound like Sully, as played by Paul Newman. Often hilarious, Everybody’s Fool is one of the truly great sequels to a book that is as honest as it is compassionate about deeply flawed characters. Russo is a master at telling the story of daily life in a small blue-collar town in upstate New York where people are just getting by, and some not at all. But, most of all, Russo knows how to tell the story of complex men who appear to be simple but are anything but.