STRAIGHT MAN by Richard Russo
Kirkus Star

STRAIGHT MAN

KIRKUS REVIEW

A gloriously funny and involving fourth novel from the author of such comfortable-as-old-shoes fictions as Mohawk (1986) and Nobody's Fool (1993). Writing teacher William Henry Hank Devereaux Jr. is a one-shot novelist (Off the Road) who's settled into an embattled stint as department head at an academic sinkhole where he finds it prudent to simply tread water and go with the flow (anyway, promotion in an institution like West Central Pennsylvania University was a little like being proclaimed the winner of a shit-eating contest). Hank tries to keep his wits about him by adopting the philosophical principle known as Occam's Razor (that the simplest explanation of a phenomenon or problem is usually the correct one), but his life keeps getting in the way. A nearby married daughter is having husband trouble. The state legislature promises to eviscerate his departmental budget. Hank's crushes on various women, including a colleague's adult daughter, complicate his otherwise passive devotion to his no-nonsense wife Lily. And, in addition to possible prostate cancer, Hank is assailed by even more undignified woes: His nose is bloodied by a poet's notebook, and he's suspected (with good reason) of murdering a goose--and of even worse things--by a hilarious, vividly rendered cadre of fellow academics, townspeople, and students, each of whom is sharply individualized. Though the quests for tenure and priority are generously detailed, and though Hank's relationship with his long-absent father reaches a satisfying closure, plot is only secondary (or maybe tertiary or quaternary) in a Russo novel. This latest seduces and charms with its voice (i.e., Hank Devereaux's): Laconic, deadpan, disarmingly modest and self-effacing, it's the perfect vehicle for another of Russo's irresistible revelations of the agreeable craziness of everyday life. Besides, how can you not like a writing prof who counsels an overzealous student to Always understate necrophilia?
Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-43246-9
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1997




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