Review of Somebody’s Fool by Richard Russo

I thought I had read the two previous novels in Richard Russo’s North Bath trilogy simply because I thought I had read everything of his. It turns out I hadn’t, but it didn’t matter. Why? Read on.

Blurb: Ten years after the death of the magnetic Donald “Sully” Sullivan, the town of North Bath is going through a major transition as it is annexed by its much wealthier neighbor, Schuyler Springs. Peter, Sully’s son, is still grappling with his father’s tremendous legacy as well as his relationship to his own son, Thomas, wondering if he has been all that different a father than Sully was to him.

Meanwhile, the towns’ newly consolidated police department falls into the hands of Charice Bond, after the resignation of Doug Raymer, the former North Bath police chief and Charice’s ex-lover. When a decomposing body turns up in the abandoned hotel situated between the two towns, Charice and Raymer are drawn together again and forced to address their complicated attraction to one another. Across town, Ruth, Sully’s married ex-lover, and her daughter Janey struggle to understand Janey’s daughter, Tina, and her growing obsession with Peter’s other son, Will. Amidst the turmoil, the town’s residents speculate on the identity of the unidentified body, and wonder who among their number could have disappeared unnoticed.

Infused with all the wry humor and shrewd observations that Russo is known for, Somebody’s Fool is another classic from a modern master.

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Years have passed since the death of Sully Sullivan but he seems to exist on every page of Richard Russo’s Somebody’s Fool in the minds and sometimes hearts of those who knew him well and miss him and those who don’t miss him at all. Taking up the reigns, sometimes unsuccessfully is Sully’s son, Peter, who has been entrusted by Sully with keeping an eye on a list of people who Sully evidently kept an eye on. It’s a group of people who might be considered oddballs like Tina, who, with her grandfather, made a thriving business out of what others would call junk or Rub who almost faded away quite literally when Sully died if Peter hadn’t called on him and given him a purpose.

Parallel to Peter’s story, Peter’s discovery that he might be more like his father than he ever knew, is Police Chief Raymer or is that former Police Chief as North Bath is absorbed by wealthy neighbor Schuyler Springs and Doug Raymer decides that it might be time to retire. His former girlfriend, Charice, (or is that current? Doug Raymer doesn’t know for certain) is now chief of police for Schuyler Springs. When a dead body is found in an abandoned hotel that everyone in North Bath was hoping might be sold and revitalize their businesses, Raymer finds himself playing detective. Who was this man? Someone passing through or one of their own community? And, if the latter, why wasn’t he reported missing? While the investigation occurs, Raymer faces truths about himself and his relationship with Charice and her brother with whom he has a complicated relationship and who undertakes the job to show Raymer what it means to be a Black person in a small town or pretty much anywhere.

As Russo introduces us or reintroduces, as the case may be, to these characters, he also allows them to share their insights:

“I don’t know, Birdie. It’s a slippery slop. Expecting things to be fair? Next, you’ll be demanding justice. Equal opportunity. One morning you’ll wake up and discover you’ve moved to Denmark.”

Peter to Birdie

What might in another author’s hands come off as preachy, in Russo’s becomes insightful and informed with gentle humor. No one is perfect. Everyone has issues, some more than others. But one of the great things about this life is the opportunity to start over that begins every day, every hour, minute, to learn new things about yourself, and if you hate those things, change them. If you can. But you can’t change everything. Sometimes it’s just too late. And that’s something you have to live with and make amends as best possible.

The humanity of these characters is readily apparent. Most of them care, even if they have a hard time showing it or don’t know how to show it. They struggle and fail and sometimes succeed. And while it’s not always done gracefully, it’s mostly done with good humor.

With regards to my intro, I do believe that I saw the movie of the first book in the series starring Paul Newman as Sully. But even if that’s a mistaken belief on my part, I didn’t need to read the other two books to follow this one. However, backwards as it is, I’m going to read those two books just because I loved this one so much and want to find out more about these characters. Of course, I’m also wishing that this isn’t a trilogy, that Russo doesn’t stop here because I really want to know what happens to Tina or at least have some idea of where she goes in this life of hers as well as Will, Peter’s son. Where will the next generation go?

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me a copy for an honest review.

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