Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo, author; Mark Bramhall, narrator
***This is the sequel to the book “Nobody’s Fool”, but it is easily read as an entertaining standalone. Richard Russo knows how to weave a story and masterfully knit all the parts together in the end. There is just the right amount of outright humor coupled with tongue in cheek humor to move the story along, even when it begins to slog along and the pace grows slow as it relates a series of bizarre events taking place in a town called Bath. The events grow more and more convoluted and disastrous with the passing hours, from graves sliding down a hill to being struck by lightening to the escape of a rare, poisonous snake.
The story introduces an abundance of characters that are sometimes a bit difficult to keep track of, but each has a distinct personality that is really well developed. The star of the book is Douglas Raymer, the police chief in Bath. He is the man who is tired of being “everybody’s fool”. He has very little confidence in himself and he regards himself the way most people seem to regard him, as a bit of a village idiot, even though he is the police chief. He reacts too slowly, often overlooking important details. The reader learns that he believed he was lucky to snare his wife, Becka, an aspiring actress, but one day, returning home from work early, he discovers her body at the bottom of the stairs. Apparently, unbeknownst to him, she was planning to leave him. In her rush to pack up, she has tripped and fallen to her death. He is bereft. He cannot understand why she never told him she was unhappy or why he never knew she was. He is consumed by the need to find out who her lover was, and when he finds a garage remote, he develops a plan to do just that. However, he loses the remote while attending the funeral of Barton Flatt, the magistrate, when he passes out and topples into the empty grave while listening to the sermon of Reverend Tunic, which seems to go on and on and on. He is exhausted, hasn't eaten or slept well since Becka's death. Once more, he finds himself to be the object of ridicule. However, after he was struck by lightening, his personality seemed to divide into two people, Raymer and Dougie. Dougie is stronger and his influence changes Raymer’s life.
Charice works at the police station and she and Raymer have an interesting relationship with humorous repartees. She is the twin sister of Jerome, an emotionally fragile young man for whom she feels responsible. Because they are black, there is an interracial component of the story which is handled very matter of factly creating no negative racial impact. It is a perfectly honest and open treatment of the subject which I found exceptional.
Miller also works at the police department, but he is not quite trusted by Raymer. He has read the manual and memorized it, and so he follows all the rules, but often doesn’t know how to bend them. He is very literal.
Another character is Ruth, the owner of Hatties, the local eatery. Ruth and Zach are married, but they are not intimate. She has carried on, fairly openly, with Donald (Sully) Solomon for years. Her daughter Janey is married to Roy Purdy an absolute deadbeat of a man. He is violent, has no compunction about committing any crimes, theft, assault, and even murder. He has recently been released from prison and has taken up with a local dull witted, very heavy-set woman, Cora, who adores him and does his bidding. His ex wife Janey has a restraining order against him which he ignores. He continues to commit terrible acts of violence. Ruth doesn’t believe that her husband Zach does appropriate work to earn money since he hoards all sorts of other people’s junk to resell it. It drives her crazy as the junk keeps piling up filling up more and more of their space. Soon he has sheds to store the stuff as well.
Gus Moynihan is the mayor. He rescued his wife, Alice, from Kurt, a low-life who manipulates and blackmails people to get what he wants. He did not know what he was getting into, but he has watched Alice lose her touch with reality over the years, after a brief period of sanity, and she will soon have to be committed to an institution for care. She keeps escaping from the house and frightens the neighbors as she carries on conversations on her “cell phone”, which is actually the handset of a pink telephone. She was a friend of Becka, the chief’s wife.
Sully is probably the only friend of Rub, a very insecure man who has a vicious stammer which disappears when he repeats what Sully says. He is devoted to Sully and dependent upon him for company and work. Bootsie is married to Rub. Theirs is a fairly emotionless marriage too. Sully named his dog Rub, which the actual Rub finds insulting, especially since he often refers to both the dog and himself as dummy. Sully has a son Peter who lives with him. When Sully’s fortune changed and he came into money, he drew away from Rub somewhat, and Rub is grief stricken, often shedding many tears over the loss of their close friendship. Sully, at 70, has discovered that he is not well. His heart is weak. He doesn’t expect to live very much longer. His ex-wife is Vera who is confined to a nursing home, having descended into a state of madness. Gert operates the local watering hole, the Horse. Sully often goes there for a drink with Rub. Gert is married to a gruff woman named Birdie.
Carl Roebuck is the rich town scoundrel. He is involved in construction and part of the reason for the sliding graves, a malodorous stink in town and a wall collapsing on Roy Purdy while he was driving by the cemetery. Carl has also discovered that he is not well. He has had prostate surgery and is obsessed with his ability to perform or rather his inability to perform sexually. All of the mishaps are bankrupting him so he is completely stressed out. Most of the town people were not too unhappy to hear about Roy's mishap, believing it is payback for his brutality or for Carl's financial crisis that they believe is well deserved as well.
Then there is Boogie Woogie, another simple-minded man, who is duped into watching someone’s contraband which turns out to be illegal weapons, reptiles and money. That con man is William Smith, aka who knows?
Mr. Hines is an elderly, gentle black man who often dispenses advice and information to Raymer. From his vantage point he observes the goings on in the town.
So you see, each character is really a bit of a fool in some way. Each incident that occurs is truly extraordinary as well. One of the events would have tested the skill of a police officer, but piling on like they did, he would have to be a superhero to handle them all. Raymer believes he is unfit for his position and wants to quit. Still, he remains to take care of the town as best he can during this time.
So, in this small town of Bath, life is rather unusual with almost everyone having some sort of a significant problem to deal with, and all of these problems seem to come to a head over a period of about two days, but it seems like much longer! There is a touch of the mystical to the story which makes it even more interesting.
There are many surprises in store for the reader in what starts out as a story that plods along as small town life does, but accelerates as each strange event takes place. We readers are allowed to watch as each of the characters is forced to confront their own reality and “come of age”. Some do it more successfully than others. Mark Bramwell, the reader, interprets the personalities so that each character comes through pretty clearly for an audio with so many.