Straight Man Prime –

Straight Man Dear Mr Russo,I ve just finishedStraight Man the fourth of your books that I ve read including Empire Falls I thought Empire Falls was pretty brilliant but in my mind, you should have won a Pulitzer for Straight Man I would have voted for Straight Man but damn, I m not on the panel, but if I was, I d vote for Straight Man.You know, I had to wait ages to read it my library didn t have it So I ordered it from that place with the same name as where the guy who may or may not have shot Kennedy was standing when he made the shot You know, The Book Depository although this one is in the UK and I m in Australia so it took a little time to deliver But nothing with Free Postage is really top shelf, is it and the print in this copy was microscopic So I then had to buy the new hardback from your US of A which cost , the postage was huge, and took another little time to deliver But heck, was the wait worth it It was brilliant, witty, extraordinarily funny,and unforgettable the best two days I ever spent in a book A quiet word between you and me If you did base Hank Deveraux Jr on someone you know, please send him my way I could use a little of his talented, comedic and offbeat outlook lately And I d certainly value having someone around whose lif I remember almost nothing about Richard Russo s Straight Man I imagine I laughed a couple of times, and I think I enjoyed the reading experience, but there is only one specific thing that I remember from the book itself More on that later, though, because I want to talk about the peripheral things I remember about Straight Man.I remember reading it for a Literary Theory class my first class at my new University with one of my all time favourite profs, Dr W He admitted, very early into the book, that he hadn t read it before His wife is a librarian, you see, and he always let her pick a wild card book for whichever class he happened to be teaching, something she was sure he d like, something she thought would be appropriate She picked Straight Man because Dr W was the chair of an English Dept in a seriously underfunded university where he played chief negotiator and neutral observer to a pack of bickering tenured maniacs He apologized for the choice, realizing that it wasn t the best book to apply literary theory too, but he kept using it and did a damn fine job.Meanwhile, in the back of the classroom, I made friends with a wonderful woman named MM you didn t think Richard Russo is one of my favorite authors His books are always embedded in forlorn towns, circling around Dilapidated Central, suffering blue collar havens, podunk as can be, with sell by dates splashed all over it The people, towns, souls and minds have lost their initial charm while slowly sliding into obscurity The atmosphere is always a bit depressing The stories are always slow moving, and satirical social commentary becomes the mainstay of all the conversations everywhere FROM THE BLURB Richard Russo performs his characteristic high wire walk between hilarity and heartbreak Russo s protagonist is William Henry Devereaux, Jr., the reluctant chairman of the English department of a badly underfunded college in the Pennsylvania rust belt Devereaux s reluctance is partly rooted in his character he is a born anarchist and partly in the fact that his department is savagely divided than the Balkans.In the course of a single week, Devereaux will have his nose mangled by an angry colleague, imagine his wife is having an affair with his dean, wonder if a curvaceous adjunct is trying to seduce him with peach pits, and threaten to execute a goose on local television All this while coming to terms with his philandering father, the dereliction of his youthful promi Life s a duck or a goose Whatever Sometimes you just have to grab it by the throat and give it a good shake if you want to make sense of it As I tell my students, all good stories begin with character, and Teddy s rendering of the events fails entirely to render what it felt like to be William Henry Devereaux, Jr., as the events were taking place Richard Russo strikes gold again I definitely managed to get into the mind of Hank, an English teacher at a small university in Railton, Pennsylvania, as he goes through a midlife crisispromotion in an institution like West Central Pennsylvania University was a little bit like being proclaimed the winner of a shit eating contest. Hank s story is similar in many ways to those of other Russo protagonists that had won me over with their messy, humorous, heart wrenching attempts to make sense of life, love, family, friends, aging, failure and everything in between Odd details and unexpected points of view are the stuff of which vivid stories are made What makes William Henry Devereaux, Jr special in this typical Russo panoply of underdogs living in decrepit blue collar towns, is his I have read enough of Richard Russo s novels to become very familiar with his style of writing and storytelling The types of characters he creates, the settings in which he places his characters, how he builds his characters and the type of conflict he creates in his stories While some level of predictability comes with this familiarity, I continue to enjoy Russo s work For one thing, he makes me laugh I also enjoy his characters and find myself rooting for them despite their insistence on repeating past mistakes with predictable results Not that any of us have ever done that Straight Man is excellent Russo fare I enjoyed my time with Hank, and just like Hank I often wasn t sure why he was doing what he was doing He seemed to have no clear plan He seemed to be finding his way as he made his choices As a 3.5 stars.This had parts I found interesting, some very funny scenes, some compassionate, and some where I tuned out Russo s humor is wry and masculine Often jokes are made at the expense of others students, females, academic colleagues, and academia alike ar Hank Devereaux, A Fifty Year Old, One Time Novelist Now Serving As Temporary Chair Of The English Department, Has 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. Hilarious I imagine the guy from House playing this role in the film Anyway, Russo is so funny and satiracle and wonderful and you will love and hate the main character because he will remind you of yourself in so many ways Fabulous It bothers me so much when people have such auper high expectations of a novel IT IS FICTION, people, 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 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 He lives his life as head of the English Department at a western Pennsylvania University Married, he is the father of grown children, the owner of a house and dog The fifty years of his life has been dedicated to the fine honing of obstinate vengeance, the satisfaction of tripping others up, the culmination not of progressing himself or family but the endless monotone of self destruction These are the consequences with which he sculpts himself, along with a sealed isolation protecting him from those others floating about him.We must discuss the writing style of this book It is both necessary and important There is no style This a not a studied Oullipian attempt at writing under imposed limitations, or an effort to be subversive or clever Russo writes with earnest simplicity of a story told Without the flowering of grand phrases or the twinings of stylistic experimentation, he allows the story to unfold smooth, at its own pace A difficult and courageous act for a writer to have the faith in a story that it will be sufficient without extraneous help It reads interesting and easy I did not read studiously slow treating the book as a text, while looking over my shoulder and whispering in my ear, Hey S that was a solid interpretation Good going son your are piecing together a theme I simply listened to a story teller telling me a story.Afterward I realized there were numerous gems not hidden but that I missed since I was rightfully engaged at reading

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