Nobody’s Fool

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“People like Sully,” he said. “I do myself. He’s…” Ralph tried to think what Sully was. “Right,” Peter said. “He sure is.”

Sully, Sully, Sully.

That Donald Sullivan. He’s one hell of a character.

A jack-of-all-trades.

A bully of sorts, when it comes to his so-called best friend, town’s biggest loser Rub Squeers (whose own wife bullies him too).

A nice guy to his landlady, also his former teacher.

And here he is, aged 60, swollen knee, fighting for compensation (rather his lawyer is),working construction jobs under the table, dropping out of community college.

“Sully – people still remarked – was nobody’s fool, a phrase that Sully no doubt appreciated without ever sensing its literal application – that at sixty, he was divorced from his own wife, carrying on halfheartedly with another man’s, estranged from his son, devoid of self-knowledge, badly crippled and virtually unemployable – all of which he stubbornly confused with independence.”

It sounds like there’s nothing much of a plot. And you might be somewhat right.

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There are plans to bring in Ultimate Escape, some kind of theme park, in hopes that it will boost the economy of Bath, once a hot spring retreat, now just a dying town which can only envy the neighboring, more prosperous Shuyler Springs.

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But still it’s not really a plot-driven story, is it?

It is a story set in a small town, populated by these whole, real and sometimes eccentric everyday people. Like Cass who runs the neighborhood diner and whose mother Hattie refuses to kick the bucket and set her free from the town. Like Wirf, Sully’s lawyer (pro bono that is) and good friend, and permanent resident at the Horse, the neighborhood pub, his penchant for pickled eggs and alcohol enough to make anyone feel all vinegary inside. It’s these little details that made me feel like I knew these people, despite the fact that their lives are far from anything I’ve ever known (small town US : city-state of Singapore).

Great dialogue and such endearing characters (in their own odd ways) make Nobody’s Fool one of my favourite reads of the year.

According to Wikipedia, Nobody’s Fool was made into a 1994 movie starring, among others, Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy and Bruce Willis. While Newman is a fine actor, I can’t quite picture him as Sully. Guess I’ll just have to watch it to find out!

Richard Russo’s bibliography

Mohawk (1986)
The Risk Pool (1988)
Nobody’s Fool (1993)
Straight Man (1997)
Empire Falls (2001)
The Whore’s Child and Other Stories (2002)
Bridge of Sighs (2007)
That Old Cape Magic (2009)
Interventions, with illustrator Kate Russo (June 16, 2012)
Elsewhere: A Memoir (October 30, 2012) 

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