A fitting sendoff

If you missed this book when it was published in 2016, or over the years since, you may join Bob Moyer as he savors Richard Russo’s last, skillful look at his memorable literary creation, Donald “Sully” Sullivan of North Bath.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

EVERYBOODY’S FOOL. By Richard Russo. Alfred A. Knopf. 451 pages.$29.

This is Sully’s book.

That’s Donald “Sully” Sullivan, the quintessential literary Everyman brought into the world by Richard Russo in Nobody’s Fool and Somebody’s Fool. Gruff, drunk a lot, blue collar, bad father, good grandfather, honest, loyal, sometimes smart, sometimes dumb, he was a legend in his time, and in his hometown of North Bath. He’s dead 10 years at the start of the book. But — this is Sully’s book.

North Bath is dead, too, recently absorbed by its upscale neighbor Schuyler. The decline affects everyone in the cast of characters constant in this series. Chief Raymer isn’t chief anymore, since there’s no police department, and he doesn’t even know if he still has a girlfriend. Birdie, the owner of the White Horse Tavern, wonders if she’s lost the chance to sell, let alone make any money. Ruth, Sully’s paramour, watches from a booth as her daughter Janie tries to keep Hattie’s Lunch open, taking extra waitress shifts to keep afloat. Sully’s pal and shadow Rub didn’t come out of his house for months after Sully’s death, and he still waits for Sully’s voice to tell him what to do. They are all stuck.

No one is immobilized under the shadow of Sully, however, more than his son Peter. He left a second-rate career teaching in New York to come home to help Sully, and ended up chairman of the English Department of the local second-rate college. He plans to escape as soon as he finishes remodeling and selling the house Sully left him (he’s as good with a tool holster as Sully was), but the job seems to be stretching out. And then there’s that list of people Sully gave him that he’s supposed to keep his eye on….

Russo throws a number of things into the novel’s 2010 three-day scenario that shake up the inertia — Peter’s estranged son, a yellow Cadillac, a black man who thinks he’s James Bond, a rogue cop and a decomposing hanged man. The combination sets off the credo that is part of Sully’s legacy — do something, and if it doesn’t work, do something else. Everything and everyone goes into motion, and Russo once again gives us a great ride through North Bath. The outcome would make Sully smile.

Russo writes most of this in third person when not in dialogue; he does both with his acclaimed skill. He writes moving passages without violating the voices of his working-class company of characters: “What Thomas’s sudden appearance yesterday had brought home to him so forcefully was that the figure in the carpet that was his life was becoming discernible, and it wasn’t one Peter had intended to weave.” Ruth realizes, “The world was a place where signals that might have saved you never made it through the noise,” and she cries. Russo also fills in the backstory of the first two novels without slowing narrative and paints a finely-detailed picture of small-town life. After 30 years, he ends Sully’s story with a grand finale.

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