Straight Man

Richard Russo, Author Random House (NY) $25 (391p) ISBN 978-0-679-43246-3
Picture this: William Henry (Hank) Devereaux Jr., tenured professor at a second-rank college in Pennsylvania, where he is chairman of the fractious English Department, faces TV cameras wearing a false nose and glasses, brandishing a goose over his head and threatening to kill a duck a day until he gets a budget. It's a vintage Russo scene, and there are others like it in this hilarious, wise and compassionate novel. Pushing 50, Hank is suffering a midlife crisis he will not acknowledge. After his miserable childhood as the son of a chilly mother and a downright icy father--a renowned professor, literary critic and adulterer--Hank has avoided confrontation with his emotions. He jokes about his mediocre job, his lack of self-esteem (his one novel, 20 years ago, got good reviews but didn't sell) and his role as goad and gadfly to his friends and enemies. During the course of the novel, which begins with the burial of one dog and ends with the interment of another, Hank manages to get himself in continuous trouble, in jail, in a ladies room (where he attempts to divest himself of the pants, shoe and sock he has peed in), in the hospital and out of a job. Meanwhile, Russo concocts an inspired send-up of academia's infighting and petty intrigues that ranks with the best of David Lodge, as we follow Hank's progress from perverse mockery to insight and acceptance. Readers who do not laugh uncontrollably during this raucous, witty and touching work are seriously impaired. Random House audio; author tour. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/02/1997
Release date: 06/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-375-70190-0
Hardcover - 978-0-517-28450-6
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-679-46004-6
Downloadable Audio - 1 pages - 978-1-4159-5182-8
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7393-0691-8
Hardcover - 978-0-517-36983-8
Open Ebook - 295 pages - 978-0-307-80994-0
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