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North Bath #1

Nobody's Fool

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Richard Russo's slyly funny and moving novel follows the unexpected operation of grace in a deadbeat town in upstate New York—and in the life of one of its unluckiest citizens, Sully, who has been doing the wrong thing triumphantly for fifty years.

Divorced from his own wife and carrying on halfheartedly with another man's, saddled with a bum knee and friends who make enemies redundant, Sully now has one new problem to cope with: a long-estranged son who is in imminent danger of following in his father's footsteps. With its sly and uproarious humor and a heart that embraces humanity's follies as well as its triumphs, Nobody's Fool is storytelling at its most generous.

549 pages, Paperback

First published May 25, 1993

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About the author

Richard Russo

63 books4,224 followers
RICHARD RUSSO is the author of seven previous novels; two collections of stories; and Elsewhere, a memoir. In 2002 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, which like Nobody’s Fool was adapted to film, in a multiple-award-winning HBO miniseries.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,260 reviews
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,636 followers
August 15, 2019
Richard Russo is an extraordinary storyteller. I loved Nobody's Fool just a shade less than Empire Falls, although I liked Sully more than Miles. I think Empire Falls was a little more subtle, but Nobody's Fool still has some amazing writing. I enjoyed North Bath (and its nemesis Schuyler Springs, NY) nearly as much as Empire Falls, ME. There were a lot of similarities between the two books, the rundown New England towns, and the characters - what holds everything together is Russo's incredible prose.

Nobody's Fool takes place in upstate New York from just before Thanksgiving in 1984 and ends after New Years Day 1985. It focuses on the 60 year old protagonist, Donald "Sully" Sullivan and his relationships: the wonderfully teasing one with his landlady Beryl Peoples (his 8th grade English teacher), his lover Ruth, his ex-wife Vera, his "best friend" Rub, his son Peter and his grandson Will. Each of the characters is beautifully and masterfully drawn. Sully is just ending his studies at a neighboring community college while recuperating from a fall of a ladder which severely injured his knee. He lives upstairs in Beryl's house with his few possessions: "he'd always felt owning things was overrated. All you were doing was alleviating the disappointment of not owning them." (P. 305)
He is a practical joker and sort of the town clown known to have spurts of good luck (like when he burned down a house because of leaving a burning cigarette in a couch, but getting $500 from the owner who was glad to be rid of the property for the insurance money) and his "stupid streaks", one of which lasts for most of this novel. "He pretended ignorance as convincingly as laziness, and his pretense of laziness was indistinguishable from the real thing. (P. 248) Money was not Sully's strong point: "When Sully needed it most, money had a way of liquefying, then evaporating, and finally leaving just a filmy residue of vague memory." (P. 48).
He is an adorable, compelling character who is effortlessly able to bring out both the best and the worst in those around him.

The book is similar in feel to the Rabbit series of John Updike, but Russo has his own unique voice and writes fantastic dialog. I highly recommend Nobody's Fool for those who Empire Falls and even more highly recommend Everybody's Fool, the sequel that Russo published in 2016. Wonder when he will publish something else?
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,082 reviews620 followers
September 10, 2023
I’m fascinated by the idea of small town America. I’ve never experienced it in person, just read about it in books or seen it depicted in films and television programmes. The concept seems just so different to any English town I can think of, all of which seem too close to their nearly identical neighbour to offer up anything but another homogeneous collection of chain stores, Costa Coffee shops and charity outlets.

Ok, I’m probably being a little harsh on small towns in my own country here, or maybe I’m taking too romantic a view of what small town America has to offer. Either way, this book offered up what felt like an idea candidate to help cement my rose tinted view. A former spa town, North Bath, N.Y. has been in decline for about 100 years – ever since the mineral springs started to dry up, in fact. It’s populated by people who ‘look funny’ and at the bar and diner everybody knows not only your name but your business too. Perfect!

The lead character Donald ‘Sully’ Sullivan is an engaging wiseass. He lives in an apartment he rents from his former teacher, is haunted by his drunken, violent father and hasn’t actually achieved much in life. That said, he doesn’t seem to need much from life either. At age 60 and with a badly damaged knee that’s likely to put a permanent halt to his working life sooner rather than later, Sully staggers (literally sometimes) through each day in the company of his sometime employer, his downtrodden friend and workmate, and others whose company I came to enjoy. Not much of any consequence happens.

It’s a long, slow book that’s held together by some minor adventures and a whole load of verbal jousting all of the characters actively engage in – brilliantly sometimes. There’s really little else to it than that but in saying this I know I’m selling the book short. The relationships are fantastically well observed and in Sully I believe Russo has developed a memorable character I cant wait to catch up with again in the recently released follow-up Everybody’s Fool.
Profile Image for Richard (on hiatus).
160 reviews188 followers
February 21, 2020
North Bath is a small, unexceptional town living in the shadow of its larger more successful neighbour Schuyler Springs in upstate New York. Its fading latter day grandeur is bypassed by new freeways, forever taking people elsewhere - a backwater who’s economic hopes are pinned to the proposed development of a large theme park.
Nobody’s fool does have a sense of a changing America, the march of the new and the fickle nature of big business but the novel is much more concerned with the characters that make up this small, stranded community.
Nobody’s fool is a big sprawling novel, a detailed slice of small town life.
We see events unfold through the eyes of a small group of larger than life (but very real) characters and central to this group is Sully, a serial underachiever, always on the verge of a ‘Stupid streak’.
He’s a tired 60 year old with a gammy knee and a trail of broken and half formed relationships behind him. A working man, jack of all trades with a twinkle in his eye, that no one can manage to hate (well maybe the jealous banker Clive Jr)
Sully doesn’t mean to hurt those around him ......... he just doesn’t think. He drifts though life haphazardly and is not the sort to ‘indulge regret’ or want for much.
If Sully were to consider his relationship with family and friends (which he seldom does) he would notice that they are constantly exasperated by him but are grudgingly happy he’s around.
Sully is bemused by other people most of the time.

‘In Sully’s life the years (never mind days) elided gracefully without dividers, and he was always surprised by the endings and new beginnings other people saw, or thought they saw, in their existences’

Throughout the course of a meandering narrative we become intimately acquainted with Sully’s adoring, slow witted but philosophical friend Rub, his sharp as a tack, octogenarian landlady - ex schoolteacher Miss Beryl (a truly wonderful character), her mean spirited son Clive Jr, Wirf the kindly, drunken lawyer, Carl Roebuck Sully’s sometime employer and nemesis, Vera his ex wife, Ruth his long term married lover and Toby ‘the best looking woman in Bath’ on whom he harbours a distant, inappropriate crush.

Nobody’s Fool is a long novel and does have some slow sections but, it’s full of razor sharp characterisation and is very funny, I often found myself laughing out loud. It’s also a warm and generous book without being folksy, preachy or pseudo philosophical.
If you prefer short, focussed, carefully edited works of literature then this may not be the book for you ......... but if you are happy to immerse yourself in Sully’s understated world, give up some time to the everyday dramas of North Bath and just go with the flow, you, like me, will love this book.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,978 followers
August 17, 2016
The main character of this book, Donald ‘Sully’ Sullivan, is a routinely careless man who left his wife and had almost nothing to do with raising his son. He’s had an affair with a married woman for twenty years, and he’s lusting after yet another man’s wife. Sully also drinks and gambles on a near daily basis. At one point in this book he pimp slaps a woman, and there's another part in which he engages in an act that probably meets the legal definition of animal cruelty.

Sounds like a real bastard, doesn’t he?

Actually, Sully is one of the most likable characters I’ve read in some time, and most of the damage he inadvertently does to others is trumped by the amount he does to himself.

In the blue collar town of North Bath in upstate New York, Sully is a 60 year old laborer with a bum knee that he injured on a job, but rather than follow the advice of his lawyer and everyone else he knows Sully insists on returning to work rather than follow the legal course of trying to get full disability. Why? Even Sully couldn’t tell you, but his insistence on doing things his way rather than the smart way is a lifelong habit with him. The fact that this attitude has him perpetually broke with only a run-down pick-up truck to his name does nothing to hinder Sully’s commitment to turning left whenever someone tells him to go right.

If he’s low on money then Sully is rich in friends. Or at least he has no shortage of people to bullshit and argue with as he makes his daily rounds of the coffee shop, OTB, and the local bar. As Sully tries to get back to work while coping with his wrecked knee he bumps into his estranged son Peter and his family who are back in town for Thanksgiving. Events eventually force Sully to face that even though he’s spent a lifetime trying to avoid even the mildest form of personal responsibility that there are some times when it can’t be dodged any longer.

I've seen the movie version of this with Paul Newman several times over the years and liked it so much that I always meant to pick up the book but never got around to it. After checking out Russo’s Empire Falls and now this, I’m wishing I’d been reading him for a lot longer. Stories about small communities fallen on hard times are something he does exceedingly well in both, and while there are a lot of similarities between his fictional towns he creates large and vivid casts of characters with their individual histories and motivations that feel unique to each book. There’s also more than enough humor to keep the whole thing from becoming a boring slog about how hard life can be.

Sully is a particularly great creation as a good natured slob with a self-destructive streak that he acknowledges even as he feels no particular urge to change. He’s smart enough to win most of the arguments he gets into, but still usually too stubborn to lose a battle to win a war. While he may bitch about how he’s spent his life working like a dog and yet doesn’t have to pot to piss in there’s also a feeling of general contentment about Sully. As long as his truck starts and he can afford to bet his daily horse race and get a few beers at the bar he really doesn’t feel like he needs much more.

It’s a bit long and there are a few too many sub-plots for my taste. (The scaled down plot of the movie actually works better as a story.) It’s still a terrific book with a lead character that you can’t help but like even as you wish that he’d wise up just a little bit.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,157 followers
July 23, 2016
4.5 Stars - Sometimes funny.......Sometimes Sad.......Sometimes even made me mad!

NOBODY'S FOOL is a story about nothing really.......just every day life in a small failing town with unusual and addictive characters, each with their own problems and unorthodox ways.

A flawed 60 year old Donald Sullivan, (Sully) with his sarcastic mouth and bum knee lead the reader on a memorable and often humorous ride through some of the unluckiest days of his life (which is most of them) while his big heart and compassion for the old and weak shine through.

Russo does spin a great yarn, and having loved and laughed my way through the movie adaptation, (many times with my husband) I really thought I was going to wiz right through this 549 page novel, but in fact, did not. Perhaps it was my mood or the bit of animal cruelty (worse than I remember in the movie) but I just thought it was a little slow and little long.

Still a great read though, and am now all set to get back to these crazy characters in EVERYBODY'S FOOL.

Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
419 reviews364 followers
August 7, 2021
Well, it was kinda good while it lasted, but I'm really glad it's all over

Richard Russo's, Nobody's Fool was too long by half. For sure, he writes a rich, detailed, character based story well enough - he creates the sense of place well enough too - and there's even a couple of laughs. But for me it was just TOO LOOOONG and too detailed - it really, for me, was a story of nothing much at all. You know how you can watch a drama series on television and then take a break and come back to it, only to discover nothing much has happened? Well this was my experience with this book. Particularly the last third.

I did quite like the characters, I was even fond of Sully in an annoying type of way - but there just didn't seem much point to the whole thing.

I think my 3 star rating is a touch generous, but I did enjoy the first half of the book, but after that I found it a bit of a chore.

3 Stars
Profile Image for Michael O'Neill.
44 reviews6 followers
July 30, 2018
I listened to Nobody's Fool while driving a rented moving van across country and regretted only that I was by myself and had no one else to laugh with, cry with, commiserate with, or just plain hug when it ended. I've read a few of Richard Russo's books and I don't understand why he doesn't have a statue on the National Mall. Must be only because he is still alive. Of all his books, Nobody's Fool is, by far, my favorite. And Sully, the main character, is, to my mind, an American hero. A beat up aging contractor, (with whom, in full disclosure, I can truly identify) who just can't bring himself to take shit from anybody. He's not violent (well, maybe a little), he's not vengeful (well, maybe a little), he's not mean (really), but he just has to do what he has to do. Problem is, he screws up a lot. In fact, he screws up most of the time. But we keep pulling for him because, despite being an asshole, he is lovable as hell.
I keep trying to find another character in literature to compare him with but, to Russo's credit, Sully is a dead-on original. He will be overlooked by academia and the literati because he is no Raskolnikov or Jean Valjean or Captain Ahab, but he is a true working class hero. Russo's empathy for Sully and his razor sharp and yet gentle wit bring Sully to life against the backdrop of a depressed, upper NY state town and the characters that only such an environment can produce. Sully manages to ride roughshod over most of them, including, or more precisely, especially, his own dysfunctional family, and maintain their friendship at the same time.
The plot is secondary and there is no point in rehashing it here. If you enjoy the foibles of humanity and the depth of characters who have eternal hope in the face of one failure after another, the citizens of North Bath, NY will entertain you through the laughter and tears of their long, slow slog through their gray, endless winter days.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,531 reviews980 followers
February 23, 2017
Throughout his life a case study of underachiever, 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.

Donald Sullivan believes that if he keeps his head down, travels light through life (scorns material possessions and steers clear of emotional baggages) and simply endures through the hard times, some day his luck might just turn, and he may find contentment. In the meantime he's a fool, the town's jester, and all alone in his freedom.

Sully himself owned nothing that he placed any value on, and it always seemed inexplicable to him that people worried about harm coming to their possessions. His existence had always been so full of breakage that he viewed it as one of life's constants and no more worth worrying about than the weather.

Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, Sully is still an optimist at sixty, and to prove it he bets every day on the long chance horse race triple : 1-2-3, regardless of which horses bear the respective numbers. Despite his position at the bottom of the social ladder, Sully is usually a cheerful presence, always ready with a witty repartee or a silly prank, flirting with every woman he meets and raging everybody in town indiscriminately. The locals probably enjoy his antics and his jester role because Sully reminds them that they have still not hit rock bottom, that life could get worse and they could be in Sully's shoes. Speaking of which, this is probably one of the reasons Sully's best friend is Rub Squeers, a man arguably positioned even deeper in the cess pool than Mr. Sullivan.

Six months always seemed a long way off to Sully, who was by and large an optimist and who always concluded that in six months he'd be better off than he was now for the simple reason that he couldn't be any worse off. He was almost always wrong, of course, in both the result and the reasoning.

Sully's quick conversational quips suggest he is truly one of the smartest people in town, but to many people that care about him these are not so much a sign of his intelligence as of his refusal to accept reality. Because, on the day Sully starts introspecting, he might succumb finally to the hell hounds that have chased him through his whole life. And that day may have just arrived on an unseasonably early snowy morning, on the eve of Thanksgiving 1985. Cue in some Pink Floyd soundtrack, like "One of My Turns" or "Comfortably Numb" from The Wall.


Last year, I picked Empire Falls as my favorite book of 2016. Starting on my second Richard Russo novel already feels like coming home to the place and the people where I grew up, where they know who I am and I know who they are, where their troubles are my troubles and their jokes are the ones I already heard a hundred times before. Empire Falls and North Bath, and for what it's worth Ploiesti, are carbon copies of every small industrial town, once prosperous and now running into ruins, with an aging population, high unemployment and decrepit infrastructure. Even the people one meets in the two novels seem like cloned copies or twins of their counterparts in the matching novels. Apparently the narrative structure and the colourful, 'wacky' characters can be encountered in all the books written by Russo and are proof of autobiographical elements and of memories of growing up in the author's hometown of Gloversville, in upper New York state.

Miles Roby and Donald Sullivan can be said to be cut from the same cloth too: smart, elderly underchievers with abusive fathers and broken marriages, estranged children and shattered dreams. Both work in rundown diners and drink in the evening with friends in the local watering hole. Both have a keen, sharp sense of humour and a need to grow up, even at this late stage in life.

He was a careless man, there was no denying it. He was careless with cigarettes, careless, without ever meaning to be, about people and circumstances. And therefore dangerous. Maybe, it occured to Miss Beryl as she returned to her front window and stared up into the network of black limbs, Sully was the metaphorical branch that would fall on her from above.

The novel begins and ends with a couple of powerful metaphors: the first one of old, diseased elm tress planted in the time of North Bath's prosperity and now ready to topple over the once splendid Victorian mansions on Main Street; the second one of a crippled, spaced-out on drugs, once vicious Doberman guard dog (Sully) trying to find a comfortable place to settle down. Between these two bookends, lies the whole range of human passions and unforgettable people that make North Bath such a moving and accurate portrayal of a decaying middle-class America.

The whole town of Bath, it seemed to Miss Beryl, was becoming ghostlike, especially Upper Main Street with its elms, the tangle of their black branches overhead, the old houses, most of which were haunted by a single surviving member of a once-flourishing family, and that member conversing more regularly with the dead than the living.

- - - -

In truth, the trees were so mature, their upper branches so high, so distant from the elderly eyes that peered up at them, that it was anybody's guess as to which tree a given limb belonged, whose fault it would be if it descended.
The business with the trees was just more bad luck, and, as the residents of North Bath were fond of saying, if it weren't for bad luck they wouldn't have any at all.

From old trees to old people to old town, one standing in for the other: weary, decrepit, brittle, mostly useless, pale shadows of former youth and beauty, still upright only through sheer stubborness. Sully serves as the poster boy for this atitude:

"To be honest, I have no idea why he does what he does. Most of the time I don't even know why I do what I do, much less anybody else." [...] "Thanks for the coffee. Hang in there."
"That's the sum of your wisdom on the subject?" she said, pretending outrage. "Hang in there?"
"I hate to tell you, dolly, but that's the sum of my wisdom on all subjects."

"Rolling with the punches is what you're good at," Ruth reminded him. "It's what we're both good at."

Rolling with the punches and dreaming of winning the lottery may have gotten Sully through the first sixty years of his life, but his past is finally catching up with him: broken down knee, broken down truck, even the chair he sits in the morning to put his work boots on gets broken. But what actually tilts the balance is not physical but comes courtesy of the people all around Sully, people that he loves and are themselves in deep trouble. By acknowledging their claims on his heart and on his time, Sully might finally admit his past mistakes, take a look at the secret load hatred, fear of commitment and disappointment that he has carried since childhood, and maybe, just maybe, start doing something with his life. Miss Beryl Peoples, his ninety years old landlady and former eight grade teacher, is one of the few people in town who hasn't given up on Sully as a hopeless case:

"As I said, you're a cur, sir."
Then she grew serious. "Tell me something , Donald," she said. "Does it ever bother you that you haven't done more with the life God gave you?"
"Not often. Now and then."

With a couple of quality reminders from his school days ( "We wear the chains we forge in life." ; "No man is an island" and "A man's reach should exceed his grasp") Miss Peoples equips Sully with the right frame of reference on his path to redemption, but it will be when Sully stops thinking of himself and starts caring about the troubles Miss Beryl and the rest of his friends are going through that he will finally see the wisdom of those ancient lessons.



I'm not a big fan of movies or books labelled as tragi-comedies, since I noticed most of them fail to strike a good balance between the two matching masks of Greek theatre, and end up either heavy handed on the depressive parts or too fluffy for the subject matter. Yet, when it is done right, as Russo does it in the two novels I have read by him so far, the humour serves to enhance and inform the drama, and a story about the woes of a bunch of nobodys from a nowhere place becomes both side-splitting, laugh-out-loud funny and a powerful, universal, timeless exploration of human nature. For those who don't know her, Miss Peoples might be just a crazy old coot, talking with herself, or with a photograph of her dead husband, or to an African mask on the wall of her sitting room. To her, though, it's still better entertainment than dumb television:

"Ed's a Zamble"
"A Which?"
"An African spirit mask. Part human, part animal, part bird. Like the rest of us."

A sense of humour, maybe more than stubborness, is what helped Miss Peoples and Sully endure through the long years of hardship and/or loneliness. I know for sure that the absence of laughter leads either to violence (Big Jim Sullivan) or, eventually, the madhouse (Vera)

The world doesn't do what she wants it to, and she gets frustrated.

In the same vein, Sully likes to spend each evening in the local bar, The Horse, ragging the fat, tight-fisted barman or his partner smelly Rub, drinking with his one leg lawyer Wirf, picking up on the inept local cop, playing strip poker with money he doesn't have and betting on the outcomes of soap operas on TV:

Wirf took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "It's a wonder we aren't all insane," he said.
"We are," Sully said, getting up from his stool. His conviction surprised him. "I believe that."


I mentioned the names of a few of Sully's friends, but I realize it's a slippery slope, as each of them deserves to have his story told, his pain understood and shared - a review for each one. Each of them is struggling as hard or even harder to cope with illness, ingrateful children, broken mariages, poverty, loneliness, domestic violence - the bad luck dodging that seems to be the only sport played in North Bath. Old bones Miss Beryl, with her talking heads, may be the sanest person in town, but how can you not feel sorry even for her devious, double-dealing cheap scoundrel of a son, Clive Jr., knowing all he wanted from life was to be accepted for what he is.

No doubt it was what he wanted from her too. To take his side in things. To see things his way. To trust him. To be the star of her firmament. Love, probably, was not too strong a word for what Clive Jr. wanted.

Then there's the garbage smelling, wife-battered, no brains loser that is Rub Squeers, who has little dreams to go with his little expectations, and would be perfectly happy if only Sully would acknowledge their friendship. Or Hattie, the blind, batty old owner of the local diner, sapping the strength and the will to live from her aging daughter... The old timers at the betting shop, dreaming of moving to sunny Florida, but afraid of alligators ... Ruth, the waitress trapped in a loveless marriage that waited years for Sully to make a commitment, for her daughter Janey not to make the same mistakes as her, for her autistic granddaughter Tina to get better ...
It's not only old people that fall under the curse of small town hopelessness. Ruby, secretary to the town's playboy, takes her love to town with predictable results. Peter, Sully's alienated son, who for a few years looked like he got clean away, loses his teaching position at university and his wife, then comes back to work jobs nobody else wants with his father, to the despair of his cleanliness obsessed mother Vera. Toby, the prettiest girl in North Bath is seduced by the same amoral playboy, Carl Roebuck - the man who appears to have cornered the market when it comes to good luck. Yet even carefree Carl has his problems, like a quadruple bypass on his vice-stressed heart, or a brand new snowblower that somebody in town keeps stealing. If I didn't know better, I would say Carl, owner of the Tip Top Construction company, is modelled on a certain orange public personality that got to the top by being a ruthless braggart:

"Go away. You did shoddy work, and I'm not paying you for it. You think I got where I am doing shoddy work?"
"No Carl. You didn't get where you are by doing shoddy work. You got where you are because your father worked himself into an early grave so you could piss away everything he worked for on ski trips and sports cars."

In North Bath, the children inherit the sins of the fathers, from the mean bully Big Jim Sullivan, to the underachiever Sully, and from his drifting son Peter to his grandsons: the violent 'Wacker' and the timid Will. Who and how will break this circle of misfortune? Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys when everyone is mean at one time or another to somebody else? Richard Russo saves the best lines for the final chapters of the novel, some of these lines coming from characters who are until the right moment just background noise:

What makes people unhappy, do you suppose? It's either their own fault or it's ours. It's the trouble with getting old and sick. There isn't much to do but think. (from the slowly dying father of Vera, Robert Halsey)

- - - -

Ain't nothin' wrong with work but the pay (from the taciturn short order cook at the diner Roof, the only negro in town)

- - - -

An imperfect human heart, perfectly shattered, was her conclusion. A condition so common as to be virtually universal, rendering issues of right and wrong almost incidental. (From Miss Beryl Peoples, on everybody in North Bath)


This is it: another great story from Richard Russo that could be concluded with the Billy Wilder's quip "Nobody's Perfect!" , but the real value is in the time spent getting to know and living in the shoes of the hard-pressed, resilient people of a small town that could be anywhere on this Earth.
I usually only add one book per author to my favorites shelf, in order to avoid overcrowding, but how can I pick between this and "Empire Falls"? I love both of them, and I might even add a third one, once I get around to reading "Everybody's Fool".
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,488 reviews845 followers
October 17, 2019
‘Hurrying isn’t what I do best, at least first thing in the morning,’ Sully reminded her, putting some weight on the knee, which belted out a hearty hello.”

A new favourite! Well, new to me, not to the Pulitzer Prize people and the millions of readers around the world. Sometimes, the Pulitzer gets it right. :)

Anyone with a banged-up knee will instantly understand the significance of the “hearty hello” that starts the day. Donald Sullivan, Sully, is a banged-up, 60-year-old labourer who’s supposed to be taking classes at a Community College while he awaits the final outcome of his disability case. He lives in the upstairs flat of his widowed eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Peoples/aka Miss Beryl in Bath, a small town in upstate New York. [Eighth graders in the US are about 14-15 years old. Kings of the little kids, butt of all jokes for the big kids. In some countries, they attend separate schools, but I digress.]

Miss Beryl has just spotted Old Hattie running down the middle of the wintry road in her nighty, fleeing for freedom from the booth at her old restaurant where she spends her days under her daughter’s watchful eye. Fleeing is her intent, shuffling is her speed, so Sully has no trouble heading her back to Hattie’s, another of the places he calls home, where he eats many of his meals, and often fills in as a cook, but I digress again.

This is a long book, full of digressions and love, and pain (that knee!), and fights, and loyalty, and inexplicable love. “Sully, Sully, Sully!” is a phrase often repeated with exasperation.

That darn Sully was a football champ as a youngster, and Coach Peoples loved him. His own son, Clive Jr, was not sporty – not much of anything really – so junior was always spitefully jealous of Sully.

“Sully, even as a sophomore, was everything Clive Jr., an eighth-grader, aspired to be—reckless, imaginative, contemptuous of authority and, above all, indifferent to pain. Sully, it seemed, scarcely got interested in the contest until someone on the other team landed a good shot or offered an insult, after which something changed in Sully’s eyes. If Sully couldn’t win the game, he’d start a fight and win that. If he couldn’t win the fight he’d started, he’d continue to hurl himself at whatever he couldn’t beat with increased fury, as if the knowledge that the battle was unwinnable heightened its importance. What Sully did better than anybody else was pick himself up off the ground, and when he returned to the huddle, bruised, nose-bloodied, limping, he’d still be hurling insults over his shoulder at whoever had put him on the ground. Seeing this, Clive Jr. had filled with terrible admiration and longing.”

But Sully is an ungovernable force on the field, not a team player, just an awfully successful one, so Coach Peoples hopes to impress upon him how football can be a metaphor for Life. He wants him to understand the basic principles, so he invites him to dinner once - but it goes on night after night.

“What he had not anticipated was that every night Sully would become involved in conversations not with himself, but rather with Miss Beryl, conversations about books and politics and the war America wasn’t going to be able to stay out of much longer, subjects that somehow diminished football and therefore its lessons about The Larger Context of Life.

. . . Miss Beryl, with Clive Sr.’s star athlete for an audience, seemed actually to be arguing that government, law, even God’s own church were not always worthy of respect. In Clive Sr.’s view, if these were seriously questioned, how long would it be before football coaches came under attack as well?”

Perish the thought!

Clive Jr’s problem is exacerbated now in their older years when Sully is living in Clive's mother’s house, so he still can’t avoid him. Clive Jr, or The Bank, as Sully calls him, is outwardly successful as the bank’s manager.

Also outwardly successful is Carl Roebuck, a property developer for whom Sully works on and off as a building labourer. Why he and Sully maintain such a fractured friendship is anyone’s guess, but they do. Sully quietly adores Carl’s gorgeous wife (who is happy for the older man to flirt with her), but meanwhile he has been having a widely-known 20-year relationship with someone else’s wife. But that’s getting a little old.

“Adultery, like full-court basketball, was a younger man’s sport, and engaging in it these last few years had made Sully feel a little foolish and undignified.”

Then there’s Rub, Sully’s slow-witted, smelly, doglike-loyal sidekick who calls Sully his best friend and cannot bear sharing him with anyone else. He is nearly beside himself with anguish when Sully’s son Peter and grandson Will return to Bath to visit. Sully’s ex-wife and husband Ralph raised Peter, a college professor, and Sully barely knows him.

Sully still barrels through life pretty much the way he did on the football field. His father, Big Jim, was a brute whose beatings he survived, but whose genes he fears get the better of him sometimes when he punches someone first and thinks about it later. He doesn’t really plan ahead. He needs money, so needs to work, doesn’t worry too much about being caught working instead of studying and affecting his disability claim, so starts hauling rocks in the snow with Rub.

“But six months always seemed a long way off to Sully, who was by and large an optimist and who always concluded that in six months he’d be better off than he was now for the simple reason that he couldn’t be any worse off. He was almost always wrong, of course, in both the result and the reasoning.”

He kept betting at the OTB (Off-Track Betting), although, as he tells someone:

‘There are no smart people within a block of here,’ Sully told him. ‘The OTB is a tax on stupidity.’

He is kind, generous, quick to help when he can but forgetful to such an extent that he can leave a dog tied up and forget to feed it if someone doesn’t remind him. Miss Beryl knows to leave the snow shovel propped up by the door where he’ll see it if he’s supposed to shovel the snow.

But he is the one who checks in with Miss Beryl every morning on his way out to see if the old girl is still alive (as he says), and he’s the one who lets Old Hattie out of her locked bedroom every morning and leads her safely down the step to her booth where she says every day:
‘Who is it?’ The old woman grinned maniacally. ‘It sounds like that darn Sully.’

All of the characters are memorable, and it was a delight to watch Sully begin to understand his family and friends a little. He realises he doesn’t see things the way everyone else does.

“In Sully’s life the years (never mind days) elided gracefully without dividers, and he was always surprised by the endings and new beginnings other people saw, or thought they saw, in their existences.
. . .
The graceful merging of his days was either depressing or reassuring, depending upon his mood.”

The knee continues to thrum and pain, his lawyer, Wirf, continues to warn him off working, (‘You’re my pro bonehead work. You I do strictly for laughs’)he spends his time and money at The Horse (bar), Hattie’s, the OTB, and at one point, jail. This is the kind of small town Bath is. The police and others play cards with him while he’s in jail.

“When the game grew too large for his cell, they’d had to move it down to the conference room next door to Booking. Sully had won all night long, with the result that he now had enough change in his pocket to set off a metal detector.”

He knows the odds in life are stacked against him, and whenever something does break his way, he manages to deflect it to someone else so that they are better off. We know he’s too good a man to be doing the stupid things he does, but he seems to have carved himself a Sully-sized space in life that only he can fill.

And fill it he does. Wonderful, wonderful, and there’s so much else, so many characters I’ve not even touched on. An absolute favourite!
Profile Image for Camie.
917 reviews193 followers
March 18, 2016
My third read by Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Empire Falls, did not disappoint. Sully is 60, divorced, out of work, has a bum leg , and lives in his 8th grade teachers attic. This story about the bordering on foul mouthed, hard drinking, and slightly womanizing curmudgeon who is set among a quirky cast of characters living in a down and out town in upstate New York is told with a sharp wit and surprisingly enough is pretty darn heart-touching as well. Full of good intentions that fizzle and aspirations never achieved he's an imperfect character that still manages to teach us a lesson or two. I read this book in preparation for Russo's new release , a long awaited ( first book 1994) book called Everybody's Fool which is due out May 4 in which the tale continues. Sign me up !! 5 stars
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,178 reviews532 followers
February 10, 2017
The blurb:
Richard Russo's slyly funny and moving novel follows the unexpected operation of grace in a deadbeat town in upstate New York—and in the life of one of its unluckiest citizens, Sully, who has been doing the wrong thing triumphantly for fifty years.

Divorced from his own wife and carrying on halfheartedly with another man's, saddled with a bum knee and friends who make enemies redundant, Sully now has one new problem to cope with: a long-estranged son who is in imminent danger of following in his father's footsteps. With its sly and uproarious humor and a heart that embraces humanity's follies as well as its triumphs, Nobody's Fool is storytelling at its most generous.
Sully, Sully, Sully...

How easily he could cause a cranial blood clot in someone and get away with it. Like 'The Bank', for instance, who called Sully 'Upstairs'.

Mrs. People's banker son did not like Sully. Sixty-year-old Donald Sullivan might have been a case study underachiever, but he wasn't nobody's fool, his mom said. Even his dad knew it, and cried - eventually. When it was way too late, though. Forgiveness had a long way to go yet, and Sully had trouble envisioning his dad sitting at the alter of the Divine in Heaven. God hopefully had common sense too, Sully hoped. As far as 'The Bank' was concerned, there were other factors to work into the equation and it's a long story.

Mrs. Peoples, a retired eight-grade teacher, was his landlady for twenty years. Her deceased husband Clive Sr, his picture now nicely framed up on the mantel shelf, and Driver Ed, the African Zamble mask next to her husband, were her constant conversation companions. And Mrs. Gruber next door. A snitch, if there ever was one. And then Sully, who somehow understood that the voice in her head, and her own voice was one and the same and it was okay to talk to herself. This year she decided not to tour the world. She expected the boom to come down. A sign of impending events already manifested itself in the dying elm trees in the street which threw a branch down on her neighbor's roof. She wanted to stay home for in case death was coming for her and she did not want to meet him somewhere else than home. So for Thanksgiving she was expecting her son, Clive Jr. to visit her again with a hidden agenda as usual.

Clive sr. and Driver Ed could not agree with her mistrust, in fact, they were silent on the matter. Clive Sr. just smiled from his portrait. Driver Ed had a dour human face modified by antelope horns and a toothed beak, all of which added up, to Mrs. Beryl's way of thinking, to a mortified expression. But Beryl Peoples know that Sully was a different matter, even though he had his own way of giving her the right advice. He scared Clive Jr. who wanted Sully gone for good. That's a long story.

North Bath, almost thirty miles south of Vermont, was in the last throws of a two hundred year decline. Leaving the town populated with the extremes of human behavior. With Sully in the lead. And Rub Squeers second in command. They were a popular quinella, Cass said. Barroom pugilists when required.

Thanksgiving this year was also the day when Sully's son, Peter, the professor, returned to town. One of the people Sully forgot in his life after his divorce from his wife Vera, decades earlier. "How can you just forget people?" It was a rhetorical question, he understood, and so he'd never answered. Had he been required to answer he'd given the same response he'd just given Ralph when he'd wondered how Sully could swallow a pill dry. He did not know how. He just could.
Sully: "I’m about to fuck up, he thought clearly, and his next thought was, but I don’t have to. This was followed closely by a third thought, the last of this familiar sequence, which was, but I’m going to anyway. And, as always, this third thought was oddly liberating, though Sully knew from experience that the sensation, however pleasurable, would be short-lived. He was about to harm himself. There could be no doubt of this. But at such moments of liberation, the clear knowledge that he was about to do himself in coexisted with the exhilarating, if entirely false, sense that he was about to reshape, through the force of his own will, his reality."
Smart ass, dumb ass, kick ass, but not bad ass. Sully was just bad. Well, that was his fault, said the women in his life.
There were times when he wondered if this were a special skill he possessed, this ability to redirect almost any woman’s anger to himself. They all seemed perfectly prepared to surrender their original object of scorn. Whenever Ruth was angry at Zack, Vera at Ralph, Toby Roebuck (and all the other women in Carl’s life) at Carl—these women were all apparently satisfied to vent their fury on Sully if he happened to be handy, as if he embodied in concentrated form some male principle they considered to be the cause of their dissatisfaction with their own men.
Somewhere in between, Sully taught his grandson Will to use a stopwatch to time his courage; checked on eighty-year-old Mrs. People every morning to see if she was still alive; gave ninety-four-year-old Matty a vintage cash register to play with in her own diner, now her daughter Cass's, to stop Matty from calling her old customers, fart blossoms while yelling at them to PAY UP!

Sully was the perfect definition for 'antihero': imaginative, contemptuous of authority, and, above all, indifferent to pain. He just knew how to cheat people out of a tragedy.

That was our Sully. With his son now larger than life within his own town limits as well as Sully's philosophical boundaries, which lead to a violent reaction from his ex-wife, Sully would once again bet on luck, as he always did. Before that he believed in intelligence and hard work. But that was before he met Carl Roebuck, his love-hate-friend. Sully thought luck played a part in Carl's making. Sully's own existence was just bad luck. "You deserved each other", Carl's wife, Toby Roebuck, said to Sully. "You're both self-destructive. He just has more fun. You come home with broken knees, he comes home with the clap."

Thanksgiving changed everything. Sully's son, Peter had needs, and a needy little boy. Sully did not know the answers, but he knew how to try. Something stank, though, and this time it wasn't either a clam or the proximity of the men's room. What it smelled like was destiny. Sully's way would change it for everyone.

I will have to reread Anybody's Fool now since it is a sequel to Nobody's Fool. Did not realize it before I started reading it. I'm still in love with Richard Russo's books. More than ever.
He just knows where to hit me the hardest in my psyche and soul. Richard Russo has a love and insight in people, small communities and life which allows him to bring good and bad together and compassionately serve it up as realism. He spices it up with hilarious events, a cocktail of deep emotions, and yet leave the reader feeling good. Sad but warm. Smiling. Richard Russo's got what it takes.

Profile Image for Cheri.
1,802 reviews2,385 followers
March 16, 2016
Donald Sullivan, Sully to his friends, has always been a bit of a go with the flow kind of guy, not really planning ahead, or pausing to think of the ramifications of some adventure. Regardless of the outcome, it takes a while for him to ponder a notion that would allow for his having made the wrong choice. He’s managed so far, but at sixty, he’s not managing quite as well as he used to, at least not physically. Divorced, with an occasional lady-friend who is married, a group of friends, the person Sully is closest to is his landlady, Miss Beryl, his 8th grade teacher.

Sully and friends live in a small town left behind by the progress. Some people may find the town a bit strange, as though they’ve magically been transported across space and time to a place they never believed existed. The characters are so real, so well developed, with real-life flaws and problems, but mostly day-to-day problems. Their day-to-day banter is nothing more or less than you’d expect when nothing much is going on. “Nobody’s Fool” beauty is the simple interactions of the characters, their stories, hopes, dreams –if fleeting, and yes, their pains. Russo really shines in this portrayal of everyday life in this small town.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
910 reviews136 followers
July 3, 2023
This is interesting, I have five likes, and I haven't finished reading the book, nor have I made any comments on it. I think that some people like that I am reading this most boring, interesting, and somewhat raunchy book. Every day I pick it up and try to make myself read 20 pages. Sometimes they give me a chuckle, other times my mind floats away, and the book is great for going to bed and falling to sleep easily, but then you forget what you have read.

My husband was a construction worker like Sully, the main character in this book, and the people in his company were like Sully and company. He called them "construction trash," as I suppose that is what they called themselves. I didn't like being around them because they were like the people Sully knew. But I admit, I like Sully, and I like his partner Rub, and I like his landlady and how he takes care of both of these people.

But as for construction workers, well, there were some nice ones that my husband knew, but those were few. When I met ranchers where we lived, I learned that those were the people I liked best. We lived in a small town of 200. My husband would drive into town to get something, and it would take him forever to get home, and when he got home he would tell me stories that he heard in town. Fun stories.

Same would happen to me. I used to run into a woman in town who asked me to join their women's club. She thought I would like it because it was there that you heard all the gossip, which gossip she tried to share with me. I wouldn't join for that very reason. She was turning a couple of the good ol' boys into bad, just like Sully’s crowd, so I just learned to tune her out and quickly forgot the stories.

I did enjoy one of her stories that was about her. I will title it, Fran and the Runaway Cow:

A cow got loose just outside of town and was running across a rancher's property about the same time as Fran and her husband were driving down the road in her red convertible. They saw a man shooting at it, so they stopped the car and ran into the field after the man. I can still see Fran in her high heel shoes and tight jeans with her bleached blonde Dolly Parton hair, running across the field to meet this man. She said that she began crying and screaming at him, just like any ex-city person would do, even me. She told him that you don't shoot cows in front of people because it is traumatic to them.

Then the owner of the ranch showed up. I imagine that he was angry over having someone on his land shooting a rifle and a cow, all at the same time. He told the owner of the cow that it was now his cow. Heard that? He would not let the owner of the dead cow take it away.

Word got around town within minutes and soon ranchers drove over to check out the cow. They brought hunting knives and maybe a chain saw or two. They cut up the cow and took it to a meat processing plant. Soon the town had a free barbecue for everyone in town.

But why, you might ask, did the man kill his own cow? He said that he was tired of it getting loose all the time and his having to chase it down. I wonder if he ever heard of using more barbed wire on his fence.

Now that is what I call a good story even if it isn't written well. It isn’t raunchy and it isn’t long and drawn out.

I was talking to one of my friends about this book, and the conversation shifted from it to racism. I began telling her how I quit a club, in the town where we are living now, because the members made racist comments. Well, she began telling me about sycamore seeds and how they have a mouth with no brain. "Just like racists," she said. They also look like little aliens which makes them scary looking. I don't believe that I had talked her into reading this book, but I tried. Some things just don’t happen and for good reason.

Update: I was just over half way finished with this book, when the thought crossed my mind: If I turn each page without reading them, can that count as being read?

Last update: I finished the book by speed reading. The movie was great, but the book was too verbose. I will never try another buy him, but most people like his books according to reviews. I just like a lot more action than this.
Profile Image for Holly R W.
361 reviews39 followers
July 6, 2023
I was once seated at a dinner table for a wedding with a gentleman who fashioned a peashooter from a straw. I watched in disbelief as he shot spit balls at his co-workers and thought it was funny. He was about 45 years old.

While I read "Nobody's Fool", I kept thinking about the man described above. The main character in the book, Sully, would have thought this prank to be funny, too. The last time I experienced spit balls was in 8th grade. Sully and his friends seemed to be arrested in 8th grade themselves. Several times while reading, I asked myself if I really wanted to keep reading about adults who acted like 15 year olds. The answer? The author's writing and the living, breathing characters would not let me put the book down.

Sully lives in North Bath, N.Y.: an upstate, blue collar, small town which has fallen on hard times. He is a boarder in his 8th grade teacher's home (Mrs. Peoples). She is the only real adult in the story. Sully and she have an affectionate relationship. As the book progresses, we learn that Sully works in construction, has a badly injured knee, and has spent 20 years in an affair with Ruth, herself married. Sully has an ex-wife, a son whom he seldom saw while growing up and two young grandsons. The story is all about Sully himself and the people he comes into contact with.

There are two children highlighted in the novel. One is Sully's grandson Will, whose younger brother is forever hurting him. It seems that his parents are oblivious to his real distress. Then, there is Tina, Ruth's grand daughter. Tina has one seriously wandering eye. She seldom speaks. Four years old, she comforts herself by holding her mother's ear. Her mother calls Tina, "bird brain". I kept wondering why the children's needs were so ignored.

This is a book that kept me thinking. It's full of humor, pathos and real life. I found it to be much too long. Whenever I got restless, I took breaks and watched videos of Paul Newman playing the role of Sully in the movie version of the book. He became Sully for me.
Profile Image for Wyndy.
194 reviews81 followers
February 22, 2020
“Throughout his life a case study underachiever, 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.”

Meet enigmatic Donald “Sully” Sullivan, lifelong resident of the small, dying upstate New York town of Bath who limps through life renting the upstairs apartment in his former eighth grade teacher’s home, working part-time as a construction worker and amateur gambler, and taking all his meals at Hattie’s or The Horse. Most of his shortcomings can be blamed on his deceased father - local drunk and bully “Big Jim” Sullivan - but Sully is not a man to foster regret or lay blame. He sticks by his own mistakes: “As always, to Sully, the deepest of life’s mysteries were the mysteries of his own behavior.” With his unique blend of loyalty, affection and perseverance, Sully is an endearing contemporary hero of sorts. He made me laugh out loud with his irreverent sarcasm and had me shaking my head in disbelief at his “stupid streaks.” I cheered his unwavering path of least resistance and thanked God I wasn’t married to him.

But Sully is just one of the many unforgettable characters in this book. I adored 80-year-old former schoolteacher and widow Beryl Peoples, a woman who openly admits her only child, Clive Jr., is NOT the “star of her firmament.” Sully’s work partner and close friend, Rub Squeers, is one of the most poignant characters I’ve ever met in a book - dimwitted, emotionally raw, and loyal beyond measure. The remaining cast of characters is small but also impeccably sketched. So, if you prefer people over plot, this is your book. It is very long (well over 500 pages) and took me almost a month to read, but it lends itself well to quiet unrushed reading. I’ll leave you now with one of my favorite Sullyisms (one of many):

“There was a certain degree of aggravation beyond which Sully would not go, and today he’d reached it. There were days when the world set up more than its usual phalanx of obstacles, and when Sully sensed this principle in action he hung it up.” Occasionally Sully makes sound decisions 😉
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews899 followers
August 7, 2007
In my mind, Russo is one of the best authors out there and this is one of his best books. It's something about the way he combines humor, real-life situations, unpretentious people, genuine empathy, and a plot to tie it together. Oh, and he writes really well, too.

Nobody's Fool has several of the best characters of all time. Sully is hard to beat as a likably flawed, smarter-than-he-seems survivor in a seemingly small world. This world matters plenty to the reader, though, crafted as it is by Russo. The other memorable character is the comically unassuming Rub. He's a luckless but faithful sidekick. It pleases me to imagine that someone like him exists in every American whistle stop.
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews502 followers
March 18, 2013
I've long said that I don't do well with "hilarious" novels, or the kind that states somewhere on a blurb on the cover of the book that it's the "funniest thing ever". I feel these books are trying to make me laugh and that's exhausting. "Whoops, was I supposed to laugh at that? Let me go back and see if it's funny... Nope, still barely made me crack a smiler." Books that feature characters that were written with the sole purpose of getting laughs, mean kind of laughs, at a character's expense. Yeah, I don't do real well with those. I'm too sensitive or something because the idea of laughing at someone so clearly pathetic kind of makes my stomach hurt to think about. Yes, even literary characters, and probably more so, because I make such deep connections with characters in books.

I'm a sensitive nerd.

Then along comes Nobody's Fool. I don't believe it says anywhere on the cover that's it's "rip-roaringly funny", or if it's there I ignored it. This book is not rip-roaringly funny or even hilarious. It's not without humor, though. That seems to be Russo's genius. This is another novel about small-town living with small-town characters dealing with small-town situations. Russo doesn't want us to laugh at them, per se, but they sometimes find themselves in entertaining and/or humorous situations. Their reactions are realistic. They make dumb decisions and sometimes say dumb things and are often mean to each other. This isn't exclusive to small towns. This is reality.

This weekend we had a close friend visit from out of town. He's actually my boyfriend's friend, but I've stolen him to be my own as well because he's good people. He's in a shitty place right now and that's primarily what we talked about this weekend - he's a real person with real shit and he makes real stupid decisions just like other real people do. In a world that often is superficial and vain, it's refreshing to be around someone who isn't just putting on an act for his benefit or for the benefit of others. He doesn't come from a small town like Sully in Nobody's Fool, but the end result is the same and is universal to anyone no matter their demographic: There's always a desire for something more. Ever felt "I didn't sign up for this" or "This is not my beautiful wife"? Welcome to Russo's world. I saw Russo's world unfold for real in my living room this weekend.

Some of Russo's characters are pathetic, but they're not the punchline to every joke. Sully's best friend, Rub, is the closest to the punchline, but even that relationship has a degree of reality that is more touching than pathetic, at least in how the relationship progresses throughout the novel.

These characters have real conversations, something that tends to be lost in a lot of literature; I feel most literary conversations try too hard to fit some sort of dialogue quota, and it often feels stilted or forced, no matter how good it is. This is my first Russo experience, but something tells me this is just how he writes his characters - real people with real conversations in real situations.

Another problem I sometimes have while reading is in books that have more than one serious storyline, occasionally I find myself being more interested in one than another. Like in that whole Game of Thrones stuff, I'm totally invested in Arya's story but couldn't give a shit about most of the other characters. In Nobody's Fool there are several different storylines, and they're all rather decent. I wasn't more invested in Sully's story than I was in his son's story. I wanted to know even more about his grandson Will, but if that's my only complaint, so be it. I have to tip my hat at the writer who will keep my attention all the way through his or her book. That's not an easy task, so kudos, Mr. Russo. I think I just fell in love.

In other words: Sign me up for more.
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,947 followers
May 8, 2008
Richard Russo is a god! Okay, well, maybe only a demigod, but he's a literary deity for sure. He's the only author I know of who can write a story where nothing much of anything happens and yet it's so enjoyable to read. He's created his own genre---"dying small towns in northeastern U.S." He creates the most vivid, real characters of any author I've read. He also has a sneaky, quirky sense of humor that I love.

Nobody's Fool centers on Sully, a sixty-year-old lovable ne'er-do-well who can never quite seem to follow through on his good intentions. You can't help but love him, and the cast of odd characters surrounding him, as they blunder through their daily lives.

"You missed what you didn't have far more than you appreciated what you did have. It was for this reason he'd always felt that owning things was overrated. All you were doing was alleviating the disappointment of not owning them."

"It was a scary thought. A man could be surrounded by poetry reading and not know it."
Profile Image for Anna.
107 reviews11 followers
May 13, 2007
I don't know exactly why I love Richard Russo so much (not true: I like him because his characters are granted senses of humor in almost direct proportion to their integrity), but while reading this I had that gluttonous "I love this book and can't stop reading it but wish I could keep reading it forever and that there were tons more RR novels that I could read when I'm through" feeling.

Anyway, we should all live in a world where the definition of a villain is someone with no sense of humor. If only the logic "villains suck, and people with no sense of humor suck, so people with no sense of humor are villains" held up. If only.
Profile Image for Karen.
1,439 reviews205 followers
July 23, 2023

Like his characters, Richard Russo always seems to have a way of dealing with interesting themes: change, free will and obligation, luck, responsibility, forgiveness – the bonds of community, friendship and family.

He offers readers observations of human types and human behavior.

And Sully is quite the main protagonist. Kind of an underdog, older, down on his luck kind of guy.

A lot happens inside these pages – punches are thrown, trucks and marriages are wrecked, there is litigation, even death.

At times it feels maddening. At times I felt like I wanted to throw this book on the floor so that the subplots would just go away – of course, how silly of me – that wouldn’t make them go away – just I would!


With all those characters wandering around – they have a story, and sometimes, it is a nice diversion during a slow spot in the story.

It’s almost like spending time in the little town itself – I’m a little curious about walking around the town and checking things out – pleased about eavesdropping and seeing into some of these lives…

But then again…

What if I can’t get out of this town alive?

Yikes…then what?

But then again, maybe, just maybe I might miss Sully, just a little, because he is someone we can look at a little fondly. Until the next novel comes along.

And it does.
Profile Image for Paul Lockman.
246 reviews6 followers
May 15, 2019
Loved it. I just felt I was right there in the 1980s in North Bath, upstate New York, with Sully and all the other characters, perhaps sitting on a stool having a drink in the only bar in town The Horse, watching the goings-on, taking it all in and having a chuckle. Richard Russo has created a memorable character in Sully, a man full of wit, at times quite caustic, basically someone with no ambition and goals but who manages to charm many people he comes in contact with and somehow Sully gets by. For me this book was laugh out loud funny, full of wry humour, witty one-liners and Catch-22 like philosophical musings on the absurdity of life.

One semi-serious theme throughout the book is Sully’s inability to forgive his father, Big Jim Sullivan, a violent and aggressive man but also a smooth talker who could charm people around to his way of thinking and to take his side. Big Jim died four years ago and a year before he passed Sully is visiting him in his nursing home with Ruth, the woman he has been half-heartedly carrying on an affair with for 20 years.
It was clear to Sully right from the start that his father had not lost his gift. It took the old man about three minutes to charm Ruth, a woman not easily fooled, into easy affection. Big Jim’s act had changed a little, Sully observed, to take full advantage of the wheelchair he was now confined to after his stroke, but it was basically the same sly appeal. The nurses scurried around him, ignoring the appeals of the other residents to attend to his father’s needs in much the same fashion as his mother had attended to them, though she had done it out of fear……
“Yes I’ve lived a man’s life and made a man’s mistakes,” he told Ruth sadly, “and I’m plenty sorry for them, but they tell me God forgives all sinners, so I guess he’ll forgive me too.
“Not that my own son ever will,” he added when Sully snorted……
“You may fool God, Pop,” he told the old man. “But you ain’t shittin’ me even for a minute.”
“So,” Ruth had said on the way home, “I always said you were nobody’s fool. But I wouldn't have guessed you were smarter than God if you hadn’t told me.”
“Just on this one subject,” said Sully, who could tell Ruth was ready to start a fight he’d just as soon have avoided.
They’d driven the rest of the way in silence, though Ruth had tried once more when they got back to town. “What does it say about a grown man who won’t forgive his father?” she wanted to know.
“I have this feeling you’re going to tell me,” Sully sighed.
“You’re just like him, you know,” Ruth offered.
“No, I don't know that.”
“It’s true. I look at him and see you.”
“I can’t help what you see, Ruth,” Sully told her when she pulled over to the curb to let him out. “But you can be thankful you aren’t married to him.”
“I’m thankful I’m not married to either of you,” she said, pulling away from the curb.

I took quite a while to read this book, it was pretty long, but really there was never a dull moment and I can’t wait to read Sully #2 Everybody's Fool where we catch up with Sully some 20 years later.
Profile Image for Leighann.
34 reviews4 followers
July 7, 2007
I know, I know. You've probably read Empire Falls already. But why not read this Russo classic from 1994? Russo perfectly captures the desolation of small towns that have always longed to be something more than they are. Towns that long for old days. You know, those times when manufacturing jobs were plentiful. When you worked at your great-grandfather's business on Main Street as a kid and then took it over when you became an adult. Hey, I don't remember these times, but Russo paints what is left of these towns in the wake of sprawl and globalization so effectively that I find myself longing for the good old days as well. But don't worry, you aren't going to start chanting "U-S-A" just yet.
Russo's characters are those people you'd love to have a drink with or maybe not. Reality of the situation, you might feel sorry for them if you knew them. You might not want to sit too close because they smell. You might not want to talk to them because they are jerks. You might want to punch them because they are weasels. Yet when you read Nobody's Fool, you want to be friends with Sully and his crew--maybe for a day.
Point being: just read it. The first half was a bit slow going but when the ship started going down, it started going down (translated: I couldn't stop reading).

Profile Image for Julie.
2,015 reviews38 followers
June 28, 2020
DNF at 9.5-hours of listening, half-way through. I hoped I would like this better than I did. I enjoyed some of the writing and the narration is spot-on. However, I could do without some of the unnecessary details that prolonged some subjects and increased my discomfort. As I type this, I am thinking especially of the dog that had a parasite. Some things are just very hard to un-imagine! It was at this point that I decided to take a break.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
684 reviews605 followers
October 8, 2016
Interesting, fairly well written with well drawn characters, often very funny. And, I almost hated this novel by the end. The one saving grace was the wonderful Miss Beryl, a sharp-witted, cantankerous 80-year-old widow: would that she'd been the main character!

No such luck: the protagonist is Sully, a perpetually down-on-his-luck sixty-year-old loser of a divorcee who's spent his whole life evading any and all responsibility to anyone; nursing grudges, especially against his dead, abusive dad and his younger on-again off-again boss; and perfecting witty, passive-aggressive comebacks to everybody in his small town.

Those witty comebacks kept me entertained from scene to scene, yet the build-up of all that passive-aggression, fueled by Sully's immaturity and unresolved anger, contaminated this novel. Never mind all the casual sexism and the few pages of horribly racist n-word baiting; the setting is 1980s New York state, and the book came out in 1993: I judge such racism and sexism far more harshly than I would in an older novel.

The book is bloated with way too many subplots and minor characters, too; such a criticism pales in comparison to how angry those few pages of racism, in particular, made me.

But yes, in spite of all of this, Sully's repartee with everyone else so often cracked me up. Which made me both mad at myself and keep holding out for him to undergo some sort of growth, to become someone more than the sum total of his anger, his train wreck of a personal life, and his zingers: in this hope I was pretty nearly completely disappointed.

Most readers seem to have been able to enjoy the novel as a simple, politically incorrect lark. Perhaps it was that I read it during the Trumpian fall of 2016, but the main feeling I was left with was a deepened relief that so many reading choices now exist beyond the narrow, angry, too-often-hateful perspective offered up by straight white male writers of a certain generation.
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,536 reviews9 followers
April 11, 2015
Another good Russo study of a dying town in the N.E. corner of America and the cranky, yet more or less likable, people who live there. Even though the book was written 20 years ago, it feels timeless. Don't we all know a Sully--a 60 year old wise-cracking guy with a bad knee who gets involved in everything without taking actual responsibility? And his retired school teacher/landlady whose son has dollar signs in his eyes dreaming of the day he can sell her house for a nice profit? Middle-class people stuck in the past, or stuck in loveless marriages? Of course. And Russo's detailed characterizations allow us to know these people so well, yet maybe we wouldn't want to know a few of them. Actually, I grew to dislike many of them and then loved them again by the end. Some of the humor here was at the expense of others. And not very respectful of women, or really anyone else, but maybe that was the point. Russo is simply a master at his craft.
Profile Image for Char.
1,682 reviews1,557 followers
June 22, 2017
I didn't find this to be quite as compelling as Empire Falls was, but it was damn close.

Ron McClarty narrated Nobody's Fool, (as he did Empire Falls), and I ADORE this man's voice.

I will be looking for more works from both of these gentlemen.
Profile Image for Quo.
292 reviews
July 29, 2020
Nobody's Fool is a book I'd read previously many years ago for a book discussion group and decided to read again because it was chosen as the "One Book" to read by my village, with author Richard Russo coming to speak as a part of the launch for his just-released sequel, Everybody's Fool. And, as can sometimes be the case, my memory of the novel was mostly overridden by the film version with the likes of Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffiths, Philip Seymour Hoffman & others portraying a long list of memorable characters from the book.

In rereading Russo's novel, I sensed that even non-classic fiction can manage to endure if the characters are able to take hold in the reader's imagination, as is true with Nobody's Fool. Often, we push ourselves to read works of fiction that are considered time-honored or whose authors are considered among the highest literary ranks but while this may not be the case with Richard Russo, the novel does have an enduring quality, full of interesting characters who continuously joust with each other and who communicate in a wonderfully droll manner that is ultimately heart-warming as well.

I was reminded of a line that Mary Tyrone intones to her husband James in the classic Eugene O'Neill play, Long Day's Journey Into Night: "The past is the present, isn't it? It's the future too." At one point, the novel inserts the words from Dickens that "We wear the chains that we forge in life". However, several of the characters in Nobody's Fool are haunted by the past and particularly Sully, the novel's main character, who lives his life in the shadow of his late father, a man who physically & emotionally tortured him & almost everyone in his midst. Sully continues to struggle with & is greatly limited by the burden of an unhappy childhood, while his lifelong nemesis, Clive Jr., a bank president & "the most important man in town", wrestles with the notion that both of his parents preferred Sully, a gifted athlete as a youth, to their own son.

In fact, Carl's widow Beryl allows Sully to remain a boarder in the family home for ages, to the considerable distraction of Clive, Jr., whose father was Sully's coach at the local high school. There is also Carl Roebuck, said to be consistently lucky, having inherited his father's small-time construction firm & tossing odd jobs to Sully & his put-upon sidekick, Rub Squeers, someone Sully protects like a mangy dog.

One could make comparisons to the novel, Winesberg, Ohio or to Thornton Wilder's Our Town, as there is a similar small town feel in Nobody's Fool that seems universal in its appeal, with folks coming & going, trading gossip and witty asides with each other at "Hattie's", a diner that seems a spillway for most of what happens in the town of Bath, New York, patterned after Gloversville, New York, a quaint but declining town that the interstate & places like Walmart have bypassed & whose small factories have closed. What remains are those who have stayed more owing to lethargy than because of a nostalgic love of the place. There are no franchises in the town & the only grocery store is going out of business. At first glance, those who continue to live in this forlorn town seem like burned-out cases but there is a quirky, often humorous steadfastness to their resistance to change.

The humor in Nobody's Fool is rather infectious and much of it comes from Sully. Here is an example: Sully greets Cass, who runs the diner with her mother's name by asking what kind of mood she is in, with Cass responding, "Rotten, like always" and Sully quipping, "Good, I'd hate to ruin your day." Sully has been repeatedly bailed out by a hard-drinking lawyer who often joins Sully at the local saloon and at one point he wishes the lawyer a Merry Christmas, during which time Sully will be housed in the local jail for slugging a local policeman. Wirf, the lawyer, indicates that he is Jewish & that these are not his holidays, causing Sully to mention that in spite of a long relationship with the lawyer, he never realized that he was Jewish, remarking that if he is Jewish, why is it that he isn't smart?

Sully is a kind of lovable loser whose ambition was always limited and who somehow never managed to live up to even his quite limited ambition. When asked if he isn't bothered that he hasn't made more of his life, Sully quickly responds, "no" but then after a pause suggests ,"sometimes". Nevertheless he keeps his spirits up and enlivens the lives of many others in the small town. Ruth, Sully's long-term lover, concedes to Sully that she "always knew you were nobody's fool but wouldn't have guessed that you were smarter than God if you hadn't told me." Nobody's Fool is an oddly uplifting tale & I look forward to reading the newly released sequel.

*Within my review are 2 photo images of the author (#s 1 & 3--with the cover of the sequel to Nobody's Fool) & the 2nd, Gloversville, N.Y. main street in the early 1960s.
Profile Image for Marty Fried.
1,025 reviews94 followers
February 2, 2020
I liked his book Empire Falls a lot, so I decided to try another, and was rewarded with another great book by Richard Russo. I think he's now on my list as a read 'em all author.

This book has a lot of interesting characters, but the main character, Sully (short for Sullivan) is the type of person most people would avoid getting very close to, and he'd probably agree that's the smartest move. He's the definition of "his own worst enemy". In almost all cases, it seems like if he has a choice of a smart decision or a dumb one, he will choose the dumb one even though he knows it's dumb. He's very stubborn, but unfortunately is very likable, so people can't simply avoid him - for one thing, it's a small town so it's hard to avoid anyone without moving to another city. He's also not at all greedy, and will give away money to friends just because he knows if he keeps it, it'll disappear to no good use. He's a good person who just isn't able to do what's best for himself.

The book was long, but I didn't mind. It was always interesting and funny, and I think he changed somewhat in the end, so there was a bit of redemption - but not much.
Profile Image for Joy D.
2,074 reviews239 followers
March 2, 2019
“Maybe Sully’s young philosophy professor at the college had been right. Maybe free will was just something you thought you had. Maybe Sully’s sitting there trying to figure out what he should do next was silly. Maybe there was no way out of this latest fix he’d gotten himself into. Maybe even the trump card he’d been saving, or imagined he was saving, wasn’t in his hand at all. … Still, Sully felt the theory to be wrong. It made everything slack. He’d never considered life to be as tight as some people…made it out to be, but it wasn’t that loose either.” - Richard Russo - Nobody's Fool

Deep character study about a self-destructive stubborn man, his family and friends, living in a small town in upstate New York in the mid-1980’s. Donald “Sully” Sullivan is a sixty-year-old construction worker who has recently injured his knee and is collecting partial disability but wants to get back to work. We follow Sully as he experiences one of his “stupid streaks,” where nothing goes right for him. Sully’s adult son and his family come to town, further complicating his life. Sully battles his demons, stemming from abuse at the hands of his now-deceased father. Themes include the cycle of abuse, trust, change, free will, and responsibility. Russo is a keen observer of human behavior and is adept at describing human foibles. His male characters are particularly well-developed, with the females serving primarily as foils for their dysfunctional relationship issues.

This book requires a bit of patience. Russo begins by describing the Adirondack area of New York, then zooms in on the small town of North Bath, then narrows the focus to the building where Sully lives in a flat upstairs from his octogenarian landlady. The author excels at creating a sense of community. We follow Sully in the rhythms of his typical day and get to know his local haunts: Hattie’s for breakfast, his boss’s office for the day’s odd job, the OTB where he places his daily wager, and The Horse for drinks after work with his cronies.

The rather thin plotline revolves around a banker attempting to close a deal for an amusement park and a lawyer trying to gain full disability for his reluctant client, Sully. This novel contains lots of adolescent behavior from so-called adults, and the reader gradually becomes aware of the reasons behind what, on the surface, appears to be mean-spiritedness. It follows the cycle of physical and emotional abuse and its impact on the self-esteem of three generations of males, though it takes place within the space of only a few weeks.

I found it most successful when examining freedom of choice and personal responsibility. How much of life is based on talent, actions, luck, or fate? While Sully shows some character growth, I would have preferred more. I also found it rather lengthy for a novel where not a lot happens. Recommended to those with a preference for slowly-developing character-driven stories that comment on interpersonal relationships, especially fathers and sons.
Profile Image for Danika.
322 reviews
June 23, 2010
I've loved the other books by this author (Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs), but this one really did not grab me. Like the others, it is set in a small, dying town in upstate NY. The cast of characters here was especially unlikable and I could NOT get into the story. Hence, it took me 6 weeks to finish this 550 page epic. It did get a bit better by the end, but not sure why I tortured myself so long.
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