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 Russo's Straight Man, a novel of surpassing wit, poignancy, and insight. As he established in his previous books -- Mohawk, The Risk Pool, and Nobody's 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.
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First Jane Smiley came out of the comedy closet with Moo, a campus satire par excellence, and now Richard Russo has gotten in on the groves-of-academe game. Straight Man is hilarious sport, with a serious side. William Henry Devereaux Jr., is almost 50 and stuck forever as chair of English at West Central Pennsylvania University. It is April and fear of layoffs--even among the tenured--has reached mock-epic proportions; Hank has yet to receive his department budget and finds himself increasingly offering comments such as "Always understate necrophilia" to his writing students. Then there are his possible prostate problems and the prospect of his father's arrival. Devereaux Sr., "then and now, an academic opportunist," has always been a high-profile professor and a low-profile parent.
Though Hank tries to apply William of Occam's rational approach (choose simplicity) to each increasingly absurd situation, and even has a dog named after the philosopher, he does seem to cause most of his own enormous difficulties. Not least when he grabs a goose and threatens to off a duck (sic) a day until he gets his budget. The fact that he is also wearing a fake nose and glasses and doing so in front of a TV camera complicates matters even further. Hank tries to explain to one class that comedy and tragedy don't go together, but finds the argument "runs contrary to their experience. Indeed it may run contrary to my own." It runs decidedly against Richard Russo's approach in Straight Man, and the result is a hilarious and touching novel.From the Publisher:
"Russo is a master craftsman ... The blue-collar heartache at the center of his fiction has the sheen of Dickens but the epic levity of John Irving."
-- The Boston Globe
"What makes Richard Russo so admirable as a novelist is that his natural grace as a storyteller is matched by his compassion for his characters."
-- John Irving
"Russo proves himself a master at evoking the sights, feelings and smells of a town ... He has succeeded in creating characters with the emotional weight of people we've known in real life."
--The New York Times
"After the last sentence is read, the reader continues to see Russo's tender, messed-up people coming out of doorways, lurching through life. And keeps on seeing them because they are as real as we are."
-- E. Annie Proulx
"It's about time that people looking for a good read discovered the novels of Richard Russo."
-- Publisher's Weekly
"Richard Russo's novel is as simple as family love, yet nearly as complicated."
-- San Francisco Chronicle
"Self-knowledge, along with love in all its forms, from lifelong friendships to consuming sexual passions, is what this remarkably likable, beautifully written novel is all about."
-- Washington Post Book World
"Funny, bighearted, resolutely untrendy, ultimately moving ... at once a delightful entertainment and a wise handbook for living."
-- New York Newsday
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Book Description Random House. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0679432469. Bookseller Inventory # CUD3345RCCC022415H0854A
Book Description Random House. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 1st. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0679432469
Book Description Book Condition: Brand New. Book Condition: Brand New. Bookseller Inventory # 97806794324631.0
Book Description Random House. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110679432469