Just ask Bob Dylan. I’ve recently had a string of rather aggravating, melancholy days. The shit has hit the fan more than once, to put it eloquently. Today was the final straw; I’ll set the scene for you. It’s 100+ degrees, not a cloud in sight – so it’s sweltering. Around 2:00 pm, I receive a call that there are donations waiting for the library. 15 large boxes of musty books laden with what I hope is not rodent excrement, delivered straight from a local hoarder’s garage. Text books from the ’30’s, ’40’s, ’50’s,‘60’s, and ’70’s? Yes. A tour pamphlet from The Tower of London circa 1971? Yes. Kitschy British women’s magazine from the early ’80’s? Yes. All the books I could possibly want (in Dutch, no less)? Yes. My coworker is wearing a dress and heels. It would be impossible for her to help, of course. I am, for the first time, wearing my new, strappy sandals. No one should move heavy objects in new shoes, if that’s not a rule, it should be. So I walk the quarter mile out to the drop zone, carting the loudest dolly imaginable. I proceed to move 300 pounds of books, over several (very public, you can’t miss a contraption that approximates the sound of a hyena dying with every turn of the wheel) trips, back to the library. I’m hot, sweaty, dust-covered and dirty, limping with brand new Alabama-sized blisters on both feet. Time: 3:00 pm, budget meeting begins. Hi, I’m Rory, clearly I don’t know how to shower…can the library have more money? (I did somehow manage not to die of shame whilst advocating for better funding, it was a near thing though.)
I’m not known for my luck or my timing. Obviously. Neither is Sully. Donald Sullivan, if you’re being proper. It’s the 1980’s in Bath, New York, a former resort town where the luck ran dry (both figuratively and literally). The town’s hot springs mysteriously dried up about 200 years earlier and the town’s been in decline ever since. Sully is as determined as a chronic underachiever can be. Hardly working and working hard – when it suits.
Throughout his life a case study underachiever, Sully — people still remarked — was nobody’s fool, a phrase that Sully no doubt appreciated without ever sensing its literal application — that at 60, he was divorced from his own wife, carrying on halfheartedly with another man’s, estranged from his son, devoid of self-knowledge, badly crippled and virtually unemployable — all of which he stubbornly confused with independence.
‘Nobody’s Fool’ is the story of a failing small town that never loses its sense of humor or derision. The characters are a mix of nosy, hard working, quick thinking individuals who are intricately involved in each other’s business. The novel ‘s themes range from luck, infidelity, free will, responsibility, and, like most Russo novels, forgiveness. The strength of the story lies in the dialogue and the characters, both are charming and witty. While there might be one too many subplots floating around, the novel still manages to tie them up by the end. Sully may not be perfect, but he is perfectly enjoyable as a ne’er-do-well whose integrity is in direct proportion to his humor. As you might imagine, he is a very funny guy.
I’m about to fuck up, he thought clearly, and his next thought was, but I don’t have to. This was followed closely by a third thought, the last of this familiar sequence, which was, but I’m going to anyway.
It’s heartbreaking, humorous, and will leave you nostalgic for small town life. Preferably with the presence of Sully. Although nearly all of Richard Russo’s novels are special to me, this is one of my favorites. He’s an author who manages to be compassionate without being saccharine, realistic without being bleak. Russo, quite simply, reminds me that the joke is not always on me (no matter how it feels) and that the world might be a good place after all – even if I did mortify myself in front of my coworkers. Nobody’s Fool was a lovely end to an otherwise ridiculous day. 5/5.
P.S. The movie version of this novel, starring Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, and Bruce Willis (as a character actor, no less) isn’t so bad.
Sully spends far too much time in the local diner. So I am recommending the American diner staple, cheeseburger and fries. Don’t make it at home, if you’re in the US, just go to Five Guys Burger and Fries (warning vegetarian friends, their veggie burger leaves MUCH to be desired). If they served it (hint: they don’t), I’d pair the meal with Session Black (made by Full Sail, description says ‘Session Black, on the other hand, lets you have your dark beer and drink it, too. With just a hint of roasty chocolate character, Session Black is short, dark, and totally drinkable. At long last, a dark beer that doesn’t drink like a meal.’ I promise you, it’s all true).
*If I’ve had enough to drink, you might get me to admit Jimi Hendrix’s version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ is better than Dylan’s. Supply the drinks and we’ll see.