It's about time that people looking for a good read discovered the novels of Richard Russo. It's not just that he writes with panache, his verbal dexterity a mixture of biting wit and potent insight. He also endows his subjects-- blue-collar people living in economically desperate communities--with dignity, finding in their humble circumstances the essential questions of existence. Yet here as in his previous novels, Mohawk and The Risk Pool , the events in his protagonist's life are the material of rollicking high comedy. A succession of contretemps conspire to keep Donald ``Sully'' Sullivan mired in a morass of bad luck, compounded at every turn by his own stubborn, self-destructive streak. Financial solvency has always eluded Sully, an unemployed construction worker. At 60, he is suffering from a badly mangled, constantly aching knee, the consequence of a typically foolish accident; his pickup truck is moribund; his long-time mistress is restive; his ex-wife is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and his son Peter has come home for Thanksgiving with news that his marriage is disintegrating and that he has lost his job. Sully's sagging fortunes are mirrored by his community's decline. North Bath, N.Y., is a town prosperity has shunned: its signature hot springs mysteriously dried up years ago and a projected Ultimate Escape theme park is doomed never to materialize. Sully's financial problems might be solved by the sale of his dead father's dilapidated house, but Sully's gnawing hatred of Big Jim, a viciously mean, hypocritical bully, renders him incapable of profiting from his father's estate. His emotional distance from Big Jim left Sully incapable of forging a bond with Peter, or indeed, of establishing any relationship that he cannot address with a wisecrack or a teasing quip. In fact (and somewhat improbably), all the characters in the novel have the gift of a silver tongue: the dialogue often consists of verbal sparring, insults exhanged in comradely fashion. The narrative brims with memorable portraits: Sully's mentally dim and odoriferous sidekick, Rub Squeers; his feisty 80-year-old landlady and former grade-school teacher, Miss Beryl; his ex-wife, a woman animated by moral outrage and self pity; his mistress's stiletto-tongued daughter and her waif-like, wall-eyed child; his one-legged alcoholic lawyer--even his thoroughly wicked grandson, the pint-sized reincarnation of Big Jim. In delivering these personalities with a Dickensian skill, Russo again proves himself a shrewd observer of human nature, whose universal failings he scrutinizes with a comic eye and a compassionate heart. 50,000 first printing; major ad/promo; author tour. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/03/1993 Release date: 05/01/1993 Genre: Fiction
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