Everybody's Fool by Richard Ford A guest review by Ryan Ludman
Ryan is one of my best friends- in both life and reading. We have gone on many a trip to meet authors and have been, and are still in, a number of bookclubs together. He and I do not always agree on books - but we can always have a great conversation. This book was our last book club choice - and I asked if he would be willing to write a review for you all. And he graciously said yes. And I will say - we agree almost 100% here!
Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo is a sequel to the 1993 novel Nobody’s Fool. The story starts with on police chief Douglas Raymer searching for the lover of his recently passed wife. Despite the small role in the first book, Raymer is the protagonist in the sequel. Sully, the protagonist from the first book, also plays a prominent, but lesser role in this novel. Though several of the characters have passed since the original novel, many of the characters from Nobody’s Fool make an appearance. The novel covers a series of events that occur over a few days in fictional North Bath, New York.
Russo is an excellent writer. He is able to create memorable characters and place them in complicated situations. The plotting of this book is well done, but it is a long read. At one point early on, Russo concisely summarizes the events of Nobody’s Fool which makes me wonder why it needed to be six hundred pages. Everybody’s Fool is also a long read with a lot of characters, side plots and story arcs.
This novel is marketed as a “comedy” and “funny” and though some of the situations were a little comedic, for the most part I thought the novel was dark and quite sad. Most of the major plot lines were tied up neatly at the end of the novel. Perhaps with the complete resolutions and lack of ambiguity in the stories, this signaled more comedy than drama, but the novels events were quite serious. I had issues with the way many of the women were represented. Except for the police officer, Charice, all of the women were depicted as adulterers or victims of abuse. The women are written more as caricatures than actual characters. Of course, many of the men are caricatures as well. Domestic violence plays a prominent role in this book and is often referenced in a humorous way, which I found irresponsible and disappointing. I felt that criticism of the first book lacking strong female characters and characters of color prompted more of both in this novel. However, they weren’t fleshed out in many ways and just referenced for diversity, not because these were well-developed characters.
I had not read “Nobody’s Fool” when I read this novel. I think any reader can enjoy this novel without reading the first, but the enjoyment is limited. Part of the charm of “Everybody’s Fool” is catching up with characters several years later and seeing what has changed and what hasn’t in North Bath. From conversations with my book club, I missed several references and jokes that pulled from the first novel. If you read Everybody’s Fool you won’t be lost, but the enjoyment might be lessened. I did watch the 1994 movie starring Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy in her last role. I enjoyed the movie more than I enjoyed the book. I believe the novels were unnecessarily long for the stories and that the film format served the story well.