Richard Russo is one of my favorite contemporary writers, mostly for Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs, though I’ve loved everything of his that I’ve read. So, I suppose it’s a little odd that I’m just getting around to this, one of his earlier books, now. But be that as it may, I’m sure Nobody’s Fool would have sufficed easily as well as any other of his books to affirm Russo’s status for me. He is simply a master at portraying human beings and human relationships, functional and dysfunctional alike.
The central character of Nobody’s Fool is Donald “Sully” Sullivan, a crass and crusty small-town roustabout, whose best qualities reminded me of a friend I lost this year, Ron Deacon. Like Sully, my “Uncle Ronnie” was an unpredictable, outspoken, hilarious, foul-mouthed quasi-drunk with a withering wit and a heart of pure cane sugar. Unlike Ron, Sully has an especially mean streak that makes it harder for a reader to love him the way so many people in Bath, Massachussetts, do. But, as he moves Sully through scenes with his ex-wife on Thanksgiving Day, a reconstruction of sorts in the relationship with his son, and a series of ups and downs with the best friend he alternately bullies and embraces, Russo helps you see how and why Sully’s neighbors not only tolerate him, but love and in their way respect him.
The book is full of humor, rich description, surprise and sadness. It doesn’t have the intensity of Empire Falls nor quite the heart of Bridge of Sighs, but it’s a wonderful story even more wonderfully told.