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William Henry Devereaux, Jr., spiritually suited to playing left field but forced by a bad hamstring to try first base, is the unlikely chairman of the English department at West Central Pennsylvania University. Over the course of a single convoluted week, he threatens to execute a duck, has his nose slashed by a feminist poet, discovers that his secretary writes better fiction than he does, suspects his wife of having an affair with his dean, and finally confronts his philandering elderly father, the one-time king of American Literary Theory, at an abandoned amusement park.Such is the canvas of Richard Russos Straight Man, a novel of surpassing wit, poignancy, and insight. As he established in his previous books -- Mohawk, The Risk Pool, and Nobodys Fool -- Russo is unique among contemporary authors for his ability to flawlessly capture the soul of the wise guy and the heart of a difficult parent. In Hank Devereaux, Russo has created a hero whose humor and identification with the absurd are mitigated only by his love for his family, friends, and, ultimately, knowledge itself.Unforgettable, compassionate, and laugh-out-loud funny, Straight Man cements Richard Russo's reputation as one of the master storytellers of our time.
"We have seen something like the story of William Henry Devereaux, Jr. in the novels of Richard Ford, Tom McGuane, Louis B. Jones and Larry McMurtry, to name but a few. Yet Russo's 'Straight Man'--a departure from his acclaimed upstate New York novels, 'Nobody's Fool' and 'The Risk Pool'-- is so funny, so beautifully written, so fully imagined, it is easy to forgive its familiarity. His narrator's description of life at a mediocre Pennsylvania college is wicked and precise, and easily a metaphor for the mean-spirited insanity of most institutions....Russo is an easy, elegant writer. The book is beautifully plotted, and Russo makes you care about Devereaux and his fate. He also makes you laugh out loud."
Joan Smith, Salon, 06/17/1997Review:
"...Russo...is interested in more than generating laughter, and 'Straight Man' strikes me as the funniest serious novel I have read since--well, maybe since 'Portnoy's Complaint'....Plot is a minor consideration....The novel's greatest pleasures derive not from any blazing impatience to see what happens next, but from pitch-perfect dialogue, persuasive characterization and a rich progression of scenes, most of them crackling with an impudent, screwball energy reminiscent of Howard Hawks's movies.... Always infusing the comedy are sadness and smothered panic."
Tom De Haven, New York Times Book Review, 06/06/1997
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