By Michael Evans
CONTRARY TO CONVENTIONAL wisdom, sometimes you can go home again.
Especially when the proverbial hometown is North Bath, New York—the endearing little burg with a big chip on its shoulder
that was the setting for Richard Russo’s breakthrough 1993 novel, Nobody’s Fool. Spotlighting the middle-aged (mis)adventures of
Donald “Sully” Sullivan and a down-to-earth,
if sometimes deranged, cast of blue-collar-tinged characters, Russo proved himself a
master spinner of semiautobiographical
small-town tales infused with wry humor and
a warm heart. Not surprisingly, it was made
into an extremely watchable Oscar-nominated
film of the same name with a star-studded
cast, including Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy
and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
No one would’ve faulted Russo for cashing in on his hard-earned success right away
with a follow-up novel. However, it was more
than 20 years before he produced a sequel, the
aptly titled Everybody’s Fool.
Born and raised in upstate New York,
with a bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. all
earned from the University of Arizona, Russo
has not been one for looking back. His
30-plus-year career has included a steady
stream of novels, short-story collections,
screenplays and even a Pulitzer Prize for
Empire Falls (2001), for which he also wrote
the teleplay adaptation for the award-winning
So, he was as surprised as anyone about
the trip back to North Bath. Of course, it took
a story that sounded like it came right out of
a barstool bull session in the town tavern to
inspire this unlikely sequel.
“The real impetus for the book was a
story told [to] me years ago of a police chief
who had found a remote control in his wife’s
car that didn’t open their garage door.
Suspecting his wife of having an affair, he
went all over town trying to see where the
remote worked,” explains Russo during a telephone conversation with The Connection.
In Everybody’s Fool, set roughly a decade
after the first book’s ending, Russo took the
opportunity to reshuffle his deck of characters, showcasing previously underutilized
players and providing some key new roles
with an invigorated mix of storylines.
Officer Douglas Raymer, Sully’s hapless
nemesis in the predecessor, returns, promoted
to police chief and the garage-door-remote-obsessed provincial lead. The now septuagenarian Sully still has a major, if mutedly
irascible, role following a series of reversals of
fortune (good and bad) that leave him pon-
arts & entertainment
dering mortality with a begrudging respect.
Everybody is a little older, but, as is typical in
Russo’s world, not necessarily the wiser.
“[It was like] visiting old friends, and
you’re thinking … are you going to have any-
thing to say to each other?” Russo says about
getting reacquainted with these characters.
“Sometimes you have this friend where you
just pick up right where you last left off, …
which is how I felt with these characters.”
“When I first started writing, I wanted to
be an urban writer,” he admits. “By wanting to
write about big cities instead of small towns, I
was denying the people I loved most in the
world and [who] had done the most for me:
my family. People say write about what you
know—write about what you love. I was not
writing about the struggles of the people who
meant the most to me.”
Now 66, Russo, unlike Sully, doesn’t seem
to be slowing down. As he’s done throughout
his career, he barely takes a breather between
projects. His post–Everybody’s Fool ventures
include a couple of novellas, essays and a
screenplay he’s excited about collaborating on
with his daughter Kate.
“It does take me now about twice as long
to do half as much,” Russo says. “That said,
I’m full of more [crap] than ever. I have more
stories to tell, all of them lies,” he laughs.
“There are days in which I feel older. But
what I don’t feel is empty, and that makes me
very happy. That’s what the end is for a writer
… when you’ve run out of stories to tell.” C
Michael Evans is a writer in Portland, Oregon.
Richard Russo returns to North
Bath with Everybody’s Fool
The Costco Connection
Everybody’s Fool (Item #1059968, 5/3) and
Nobody’s Fool (Item #1059973, available
now) are in all Costco warehouses.
OUR DIGITAL EDITIONS
Click here for a video of Richard
Russo talking about Everybody’s
Fool. (See page 15 for details.)