Wednesday, August 04, 2004

BOOK NOOK:

Just finished Richard Russo's "Nobody's Fool," another of my thrift store finds. I'd never read any of Russo's books, but the book that followed this one, "Empire Falls," won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Fiction, so I figured the guy could at least write pretty well. And for someone irrational reason I tend to trust books that have been made into movies (I've never seen "Nobody's Fool," but it got a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for Paul Newman, and was Jessica Tandy's last film). So I had hopes, modest ones, for this book.

Boy, was I incredibly surprised how much I loved it. This type of novel is kind of a dying breed: the well-crafted, beautifully-written, entertaining, realistic novel about regular people. "Nobdody's Fool" is set in the 1980s in a small, going-downhill town in upstate New York, and focuses on Don "Sully" Sullivan, a smart, funny sixty-year-old wiseasss with a bum knee; his retired schoolteacher landlady, Miss Beryl; and the various people who live in the town with them and/or intersect their lives. Sully's got all kinds of problems: he is trying to work while at the same time collect disability for his knee; his ex-wife is having a prolongued nervous breakdown; his best friend and co-worker on construction sites is one small step above being a total moron; and his estranged son comes back to town with his own decaying marriage and troubled children.

Miss Beryl is a sharp-witted, kindly widow who talks out loud to a picture of her dead husband and the African tribal mask she got on one of her annual trips overseas; she doesn't trust her only child, who is the local savings and loan president (with good reason); and she is worried that at any moment God is going to "lower the boom" on her in some form: either a tree limb on her property will fall from the weight of snow, or Sully is going to accidentally burn the house down (as he did to his previous residence), or she may be put into a retirement home by her son.

Everything that happens in the book is normal stuff that could happen to anyone; the joy of reading it comes from the great skill of the author to make normal stuff--and normal people--so fascinating. The dialogue is sharp and true-to-life and made me laugh out loud several times. Likable characters do unlikable things; and unlikable characters do likable things--no one is perfect, no one is all bad or good.

It is also a real pleasure to read about older people (Miss Beryl is 80) who are witty, wise, and not at all cariacatured or patronized by the author. A great read, and I am going to hunt down other books by Russo as soon as I can. And guess what's next on my Netflix queue? "Nobody's Fool: The Movie," of course.

FELT UP SCORE: HOMERUN!

Next Book Nook Book: "Charming Billy," by Alice McDermott. I'm a sucker for books about Irish drunkard ne'er-do-well charmers!

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