1300 36 33 32

Hank Devereaux, a fifty-year-old, one-time novelist now serving as temporary chair of the English department, has more than a mid-life crisis to contend with when he learns that he must cull 20 per cent of his department to meet budget. Half in love with three women, unable to understand his younger daughter or come to terms with his father, he has a dangerous philosophy that life, and academic life, could be simpler, but he fails to see the larger consequences of his own actions or of the small-world politics that ebb and flow around him, as his colleagues jostle for position and marriages fall apart and regroup. The despair of his wife, and the scourge of the campus geese, he is a man at odds with himself and caught somewhere between cause and effect.

Buy Straight Man book by Richard Russo from Australia's Online Bookstore, Boomerang Books.

Book Details

ISBN: 9780099376217
ISBN-10: 0099376210
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 26mm)
Pages: 416
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 4-Jun-1998
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » A gloriously funny and involving fourth novel from the author of such comfortable-as-old-shoes fictions as Mohawk (1986) and Nobody's Fool (1993). Writing teacher William Henry "Hank" Devereaux Jr. is a one-shot novelist (Off the Road) who's settled into an embattled stint as department head at an academic sinkhole where he finds it prudent to simply tread water and go with the flow (anyway, "promotion in an institution like West Central Pennsylvania University was a little like being proclaimed the winner of a shit-eating contest"). Hank tries to keep his wits about him by adopting the philosophical principle known as Occam's Razor (that the simplest explanation of a phenomenon or problem is usually the correct one), but his life keeps getting in the way. A nearby married daughter is having husband trouble. The state legislature promises to eviscerate his departmental budget. Hank's "crushes" on various women, including a colleague's adult daughter, complicate his otherwise passive devotion to his no-nonsense wife Lily. And, in addition to possible prostate cancer, Hank is assailed by even more undignified woes: His nose is bloodied by a poet's notebook, and he's suspected (with good reason) of murdering a goose - and of even worse things - by a hilarious, vividly rendered cadre of fellow academics, townspeople, and students, each of whom is sharply individualized. Though the quests for tenure and priority are generously detailed, and though Hank's relationship with his long-absent father reaches a satisfying closure, plot is only secondary (or maybe tertiary or quaternary) in a Russo novel. This latest seduces and charms with its voice (i.e., Hank Devereaux's): Laconic, deadpan, disarmingly modest and self-effacing, it's the perfect vehicle for another of Russo's irresistible revelations of the agreeable craziness of everyday life. Besides, how can you not like a writing prof who counsels an overzealous student to "Always understate necrophilia"? (Kirkus Reviews)


» Have you read this book? We'd like to know what you think about it - write a review about Straight Man book by Richard Russo and you'll earn 50c in Boomerang Bucks loyalty dollars (you must be a member - it's free to sign up!)

Write Review

Book Review: Straight Man by Richard Russo - Reviewed by (08 Oct 2015)

"What ails people is never simple, and William of Occam, who provided mankind with a beacon of rationality by which to view the world of physical circumstance, knew better than to apply his razor to the irrational, where entities multiply like strands of a virus under a microscope"

Straight Man is the fourth novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, Richard Russo. William Henry Devereaux Jnr, (Hank) at almost fifty, is interim chairman of the English department at the (chronically underfunded) West Central Pennsylvania University in Railton. A certain week in April sees him enduring quite a variety of trials, both mental and physical. It all starts in a meeting where he is nasally mangled by a colleague. Or does it? Perhaps his absent father has had more influence that he admits. Russo subjects his protagonist to bouts of overactive imagination, the suspicions and petty politics of colleagues, his students' decided lack of promise, his daughter's marital problems, a tempting flirtation with a younger woman, and an irritating (and possibly worrying) deterioration in the function of a certain organ. Ducks, geese, a TV news crew, the local jail, a hot tub, peaches and their pits, a dog called Occam and a missing ceiling tile complete the picture.

Hank holds his colleagues in disdain ("You know the kind of company I keep. If it weren't for erroneous conclusions, these people would never arrive at any at all"), is critical of his friends ("He misses all the details than even an out-of-practice storyteller like me would not only mention but place in the foreground. He's like a tone-deaf man trying to sing, sliding between notes, tapping his foot arhythmically, hoping his exuberance will make up for not bothering to establish a key"), and loves the wife who knows him entirely too well ("Promise me you'll act surprised" is one of Lily's favourite, supposedly harmless pretences.........."It hurts my feelings to pretend to be this dumb," I tell my wife. "Don't you care what people think of me?" But she just smiles. "They won't notice," she always explains. "It'll blend in with all the times you're genuinely slow.")

He knows his own weaknesses ("I try to tell myself it's nothing but decent affection I feel for her, but the truth is, it doesn't feel entirely decent. She's too lovely a woman for this to be decent affection, though it's probably not exactly indecent either. Is there a state more or less halfway between decency and indecency? Is there a name for such a realm? The Kingdom of Cowardice? The Fiefdom of Altruism? The Grove of Academe?") and is well aware of his flaws ("I use my own solitude to consider what may well be my worst character flaw, the fact that in the face of life's seriousness, its pettiness, its tragedy, its lack of coherent meaning, my spirits are far too easily restored")

This is a book filled with humour, some of it quite dark, and much of it very dry; it will have readers grinning, chuckling and laughing out loud, so is perhaps not a book to read in public. Russo gives Hank some succinct and insightful observations: "What I suspect is that this brandy is intended to brace me for unpleasantness, and that any brandy used for this purpose may be imbued with medicinal bitterness if you suspect the truth". He also allows Hank to display his literary talent in the form of descriptive prose: "Properly medicated, Yolanda felt becalmed on a flat lake where others nearby were sailing about merrily, wind snapping in their sails......Skipping her medication caused the sails of her own small craft to billow like the others, allowed her to join in the merriment, tacking in and out among the other revelers, the wind in her hair and her clothing".

Fans of Russo's earlier books will not be disappointed with Straight Man; readers new to his work will want to seek out more works by this talented author. Clever and brilliantly funny.


Author Biography - Richard Russo

Richard Russo is the author of seven previous novels; two collections of stories; and On Helwig Street, a memoir. In 2002 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, which like Nobody's Fool was adapted to film, in a multiple-award-winning HBO miniseries. He lives in Maine.

Books By Author Richard Russo

My Bookstore by Richard Russo

My Bookstore

Paperback, April 2017
$22.49
Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

Everybody's Fool

Paperback / softback, January 2017
$29.54
Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo

Nobody's Fool

Paperback, January 2017
$17.99
Collected Nonfiction by Richard Russo

Collected Nonfiction

Hardback, October 2016
$25.56