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Straight Man – Richard Russo

 
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Posted October 14, 2016 by

Posted by Lale on 3/9/2002, 19:34:06

Oskar?
We might have lost contact with Oskar. I hope it is only temporary. In the meantime, I would like us to get the Straight Man discussions underway, you know, before we all forget about it.
Do we have a volunteer in the house to kick start the discussions?

Lale

  ~~

 Posted by Chris on 4/9/2002, 7:11:34 , in reply to “Richard Russo’s Straight Man”

 I’m not a book reviewer, but I can play that role.
Russo’s Straight Man was a bit different from our usual book club fare, offering us a comical look at small-town university life and politics in place of the more somber books we’ve read recently. While a bit on the light side, I did like it a lot.

I’m not usually a fan of “funny” books. More often than not they are one-joke tomes that get repetitive quickly. Russo’s blend of absurdist plot twists and characters who did not necessarily act funny, but were hilarious in their oddities, was a pleasant surprise. In some was I was reminded, stylistically, of Joseph Heller, but without Heller’s nuance and with less wit.

While reading books I typically ask myself three questions: 1) is the book, in a literary sense, impressive? 2) is the book a good read? and 3) would I consider reading other works by the same author? Straight Man, as I’ve said, is on the light side in terms of literature, so in that sense it wasn’t particularly impressive. It was, certainly, a good read. (My categories sometimes confuse people, so I usually illustrate by pointing out that Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is obviously a towering achievement but is a dreadful read) And finally, yes, the book made me want to explore more Russo books. In fact, I’ve heard from several people that Empire Falls is excellent.
Anyway, in the end I’d give Straight Man 3.5 stars. I enjoyed it.

  ~~

 Posted by Lale on 4/9/2002, 23:27:06 , in reply to “Re: Richard Russo’s Straight Man”

 : I’m not a book reviewer,

: but I can play that

: role.

 My coffee came out of my nostrils when I saw that one. And it is funny that I should find this opening of Chris so funny. It was a phrase that annoyed me while reading the book.
Have you guys seen the movie Wonder Boys ? Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand and Robert Downey Jr., have you seen it? When I was reading the book, I kept thinking of that movie. A few nights ago, I came across the movie again, on television, and I watched it again. Although Straight Man and Wonder Boys have nothing similar in the story lines, they are still so much alike.
Here is a list of common items in Richard Russo’s Straight Man and the movie Wonder Boys:

– Couple of days of time frame

– University environment

– English Department and an English Professor with tenure.

– Students with troubles

– Killing of animals

– Writing workshop

– English professor having a difficult time: personal and health problems, problems with the law enforcement.

– Cross dressing

– Quite a few different little stories, variety in plot.

– Both professors have written one book in the past.

– Etc.

I just checked the web site of Wonder Boys to see if the script was written by Richard Russo or if the movie was based on one of his books. No. Absolutely no connection.
On my copy of the book it says “From the author of Nobody’s Fool” and then inside it says, in reference to Nobody’s Fool, “which was made into a major film starring Paul Newman”. Anyone seen That film? I don’t remember any recent movie with Paul Newman in it. I would like to see it very much.
Back to the book, I agree with Chris, it was different and lighter than our usual fare but it was amusing.
While reading this book, for the first time in my life, I underlined certain words and names. Give me a little time to do some preparation and I will show you what I underlined and why.
Did anyone master Rachel’s end-of-the-sentence-but-voice-not-dropped way of speaking?

Random page, only Rachel’s lines:
“Really? That’s great?”

“You have some messages?”

“Herbert Schonberg called twice?”

“The dean called again? Long distance? He said thanks a lot? He said you’d understand?”

 You know, in French, one way of forming a question is to make a statement and make it sound like a question.
Elle est arrivée. = She arrived.

Elle est arrivée? (spoken Rachel-style) = Did she arrive?

Anyway.
Lale

  ~~

 Posted by Lale on 5/9/2002, 0:57:02 , in reply to “Re: Richard Russo’s Straight Man”

 Ockham’s razor:

Also spelled OCCAM’S RAZOR, also called LAW OF ECONOMY, or LAW OF PARSIMONY, principle stated by William of Ockham (1285-1347/49), a scholastic, that Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate; “Plurality should not be posited without necessity.” The principle gives precedence to simplicity; of two competing theories, the simplest explanation of an entity is to be preferred. The principle is also expressed “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.”

The principle was, in fact, invoked before Ockham by Durand de Saint-Pourçain, a French Dominican theologian and philosopher of dubious orthodoxy, who used it to explain that abstraction is the apprehension of some real entity, such as an Aristotelian cognitive species, an active intellect, or a disposition, all of which he spurned as unnecessary. Likewise, in science, Nicole d’Oresme, a 14th-century French physicist, invoked the law of economy, as did Galileo later, in defending the simplest hypothesis of the heavens. Other later scientists stated similar simplifying laws and principles.

Ockham, however, mentioned the principle so frequently and employed it so sharply that it was called “Ockham’s razor.” He used it, for instance, to dispense with relations, which he held to be nothing distinct from their foundation in things; with efficient causality, which he tended to view merely as regular succession; with motion, which is merely the reappearance of a thing in a different place; with psychological powers distinct for each mode of sense; and with the presence of ideas in the mind of the Creator, which are merely the creatures themselves.

Copyright © 1994-2000 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

  ~~

 Posted by Lale on 5/9/2002, 13:58:36 , in reply to “Re: Richard Russo’s Straight Man”

“But my daughter belongs to a talk show generation that seems to be losing the ability to discriminate between public and private woes. She sees no reason she shouldn’t tell her friends about her marriage, even encourage them to take sides, pass judgement. It’s not even the knee-jerk confession mode that worries me most. It’s my daughter’s fear of silence and solitude that seems unnatural. If she weren’t talking to her friends, she might be listening to other voices in her own head, voices she might benefit from hearing out. Instead, she telephones. When she runs out of people to call, she opts for electronic company, the television in one room, the stereo in the next. She may even consider these part of her support group, for all I know.

“I know without looking that the large suitcase she’s brought with her, which contains what she imagined she’d need to survive a weekend at her parents’ house, does not contain a single book. My daughter has never found a moment’s comfort in a book, and this provokes in me a complex reaction. …”

Straight Man – Richard Russo

 Posted by Anna van Gelderen on 6/9/2002, 16:53:41 , in reply to “Re: Richard Russo’s Straight Man”

 I am more or less with Chris and Lale. Yes, the book is definitely a good read. I enjoyed it and I will be happy to start on Empire Falls some time, which I bought a couple of months ago and which is supposed to have more to it than Straight Man.

As a work of literature, unfortunately, Straight Man rather lacks. The characters are too much cardboard caricatures to be believable as real people and not caricatural enough to be sidesplittingly funny. Are second rate American universities really filled with so many ridiculous incompetents? Also I got slightly fed up with some of the running gags, like Rachel’s turning everything into a question; there was too much of that.

Another thing that I found somewhat disappointing was that the tone of the novel was too aloof, too distant to get me involved with either the plot or the protagonist. Sometimes such an aloofness works well in a novel, for instance when a story would otherwise turn maudlin of melodramatic, as in Sébastien Japrisot’s novel. But here it just kept me mainly indifferent – amused as well, certainly, but for the rest indifferent.

Mostly I thought this book was like a rather good sitcom: you are entertained while it lasts and smile regularly at the antics of the characters, but when the credits start to roll, you are already compiling tomorrow’s shopping list, for there was not enough food for thought to keep you mentally occupied for long.

That does not mean that there aren’t nice touches in the novel. It begins and ends with the death of a dog, the second death (especially the burial) illustrating that Hank has turned more into his father than he cares. I liked that. Some of the observations are also spot on, such as the ones Lale quoted.

Three stars for me.

  ~~

 Posted by Lale on 6/9/2002, 18:14:17 , in reply to “Re: Richard Russo’s Straight Man”

 : The characters

: are too much cardboard

: charicatures to be

: believable as real

: people and not

: charicatural enough to

: be sidesplittingly

: funny.

Yes, I agree. There wasn’t one main character that was believable, or “real” as in someone you would actually meet in real life.
I often wondered about Hank. Could he have been a real person? He is always ready with a come-back, a snappy answer. There is no end to his wit and humour while constantly giving a “I couldn’t care less” attitude to those around him. Are there people like him?

 : Also I

: got slightly fed up

: with some of the

: running gags, like

: Rachel’s turning

: everything into a

: question; there was

: too much of that.

 I got bored with:

 – Rachel’s question-like speech,

– Peeing, not able to pee, visits to the toilet,

– “is what he wants to know” at the end of most questions,

– “I am not ______, but I can play that role.” (But it was funny when Chris did it.)

 I did like “or she” joke.
: It begins and ends.

: with the death of a

: dog,

Actually, I thought the first story at the beginning of the book was brilliant.

Good book. Mostly light weight. Three and a half stars from me.

Lale

  ~~

 Posted by Lale on 6/9/2002, 20:52:53 , in reply to “Re: Richard Russo’s Straight Man”

There was a lot of name-dropping in Richard Russo’s Straight Man. I underlined the names I didn’t recognize or did recognize but was not exactly sure who they were. Then I looked up all of them. Here is a list of Richard Russo’s references:

The following is compiled from Encyclopedia Britannica (Copyright © 1994-2000 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.) and various web pages.

Occam’s Razor – Title of Part One<

also called LAW OF ECONOMY, or LAW OF PARSIMONY, principle stated by William of Ockham (1285-1347/49), a scholastic, that Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate; “Plurality should not be posited without necessity.” The principle gives precedence to simplicity; of two competing theories, the simplest explanation of an entity is to be preferred. The principle is also expressed “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.”

      =====

 Stephen Spender – Part One and Part Two opening Quotes

(1909 – 1995)

in full SIR STEPHEN HAROLD SPENDER, English poet and critic, who made his reputation in the 1930s with poems expressing the politically conscience-stricken, leftist “new writing” of that period.

Poems (1933)

Vienna (1934)

Trial of a Judge, a verse play (1938)

The Still Centre (1939)

Ruins and Visions (1942)

Poems of Dedication (1947)

The Edge of Being (1949)

Collected Poems (1955)

Selected Poems (1965)

The Generous Days (1971)

Dolphins (1994)

From the 1940s he was better known for his perceptive criticism and his editorial association with the influential reviews Horizon (1940-41) and Encounter (1953-67) than he was as a poet. Spender’s prose works include short stories (The Burning Cactus, 1936), a novel (The Backward Son, 1940), literary criticism (The Destructive Element, 1935; The Creative Element, 1953; The Making of a Poem, 1955; The Struggle of the Modern, 1963), an autobiography (World Within World, 1951, reissued 1994), and uncollected essays with new commentary (The Thirties and After, 1978).

During World War II Spender was a member of the National Fire Service (1941-44). After the war he made several visits to the United States, teaching and lecturing at universities. In 1970 he was appointed professor of English at University College, London; he became professor emeritus in 1977. He was knighted in 1983.

      =====

 Gilbert Roland – Page 12

(1905 – 1994)

(LUIS ANTONIO DÁMASO DE ALONSO), U.S. actor , specialized in portraying charismatic and dashing Latin lovers, most notably in the 1927 silent-film classic Camille opposite Norma Talmadge, but he was also featured in swashbuckling talkie roles, including that of the Spanish sea captain in The Sea Hawk (1940), a matador in The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951), and a Mexican rebel leader in Bandido (1956). The son and grandson of Spanish bullfighters, Roland also trained as a torero before his family fled the Mexican Revolution and moved to Texas. The mature-looking Roland moved to Los Angeles on his own as a young teen and began appearing as an extra in Hollywood films. The enduring character actor, who was distinguished by a trim mustache, made more than 100 films, including She Done Him Wrong (1933), Captain Kidd (1945), We Were Strangers (1949), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and The Big Circus (1959). During the 1950s and ’60s he became a familiar figure on television on such shows as “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” and “The Fugitive.”

      =====

Currier and Ives – Page 48
Nathaniel Currier (1813 – 1888) and James Merritt Ives (1824 – 1895)

lithographers whose prints were among the most popular wall hangings in 19th-century America.

After apprenticeships in Boston and Philadelphia, Currier set up business in New York City in 1834. He hired Ives as his bookkeeper in 1852 and made him a partner in 1857, creating the firm of Currier & Ives, which lasted, under the management of their sons, until 1907.

While never pretending artistic greatness, Currier & Ives insisted on fine craftmanship and the best lithographic materials. Most designs were done by house staff; others were commissioned by young artists such as Louis Maurer, Thomas Worth, and Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait. As the firm was not equipped for chromolithography, prints were hand-coloured by a dozen or more women in assembly-line fashion, one colour to a woman. Colours were clear and simple, drawing bold and direct. Rendered obsolete by automation and the photograph, Currier & Ives prints became valuable records of the manners of a vigorous, unsophisticated nation.

     =====

Skinner (Skinner-esque) – Page 53

B.F. Skinner (1904 – 1990)

American psychologist and an influential exponent of behaviourism, which views human behaviour in terms of physiological responses to the environment and favours the controlled, scientific study of response as the most direct means of elucidating man’s nature.

     =====

Emerson (Emersonian) – Page 53

Ralph Waldo Emerson

(1803 – 1882)

American lecturer, poet, and essayist, the leading exponent of New England Transcendentalism.

Emerson’s own sermons, from the first, had been unusually free of traditional doctrine and were instead a personal exploration of the uses of spirit, showing an idealistic tendency and announcing his personal doctrine of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.

     =====

Bartleby – Page 53

In Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” (1856) the narrator is a man who unintentionally reveals his own moral weaknesses through his telling of the story of Bartleby.

     =====

Wolfman Jack – Page 63

(1938 – 1995)

(ROBERT WESTON SMITH), U.S. rock-and-roll radio disc jockey whose gravel-throated voice and wolf howls made him a cult personality on the nighttime airwaves until he was elevated to international fame after appearing in the 1973 film classic American Graffiti.

     =====

Oedipus (Oedipal) – Page 88

in Greek mythology, the king of Thebes who unwittingly killed his father and married his mother. Homer related that Oedipus’ wife and mother hanged herself when the truth of their relationship became known, though Oedipus apparently continued to rule at Thebes until his death. In the post-Homeric tradition, most familiar from Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Oedipus Coloneus, there are notable differences in emphasis and detail.

     =====

Norma Desmond – Page 89

the fading movie queen Norma Desmond in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard (played by Gloria Swanson).

     =====

Cecil B. DeMille – Page 89

(1881 – 1959)

in full CECIL BLOUNT DEMILLE, American motion-picture producer-director whose use of spectacle attracted vast audiences and made him a dominant figure in Hollywood for almost five decades.

The Squaw Man (1914)

The Ten Commandments (1923)

The King of Kings (1927)

The Sign of the Cross (1932)

Union Pacific (1939)

Samson and Delilah (1949)

The Greatest Show on Earth (Academy Award for the best picture of 1952)

The Ten Commandments (1956)

Although many critics dismissed DeMille’s films as devoid of artistic merit, he was conspicuously successful in a genre–the epic–that he made distinctively his own.

     =====

Scuffy the Tugboat – Page 132

Children’s book by Gertrude Crampton

     =====

Brobdingnag (Brobdingnagian) – Page 137

Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

(Opposite of Lilliput, where the inhabitants are six-inch-high, tiny people.) Brobdingnag’s inhabitants are giants.

     =====

Goths and Visigoths and Vandals – Page 141

Goth – member of a Germanic people whose two branches, the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths, for centuries harassed the Roman Empire. According to their own legend, reported by the mid-6th-century Gothic historian Jordanes, the Goths originated in southern Scandinavia and crossed in three ships under their king Berig to the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, where they settled after defeating the Vandals and other Germanic peoples in that area. Tacitus states that the Goths at this time were distinguished by their round shields, their short swords, and their obedience toward their kings. Jordanes goes on to report that they migrated southward from the Vistula region under Filimer, the fifth king after Berig and, after various adventures, arrived at the Black Sea.

Visigoth – member of a division of the Goths. One of the most important of the Germanic peoples, the Visigoths separated from the Ostrogoths in the 4th century AD, raided Roman territories repeatedly, and established great kingdoms in Gaul and Spain.

Vandal – member of a Germanic people who maintained a kingdom in North Africa from AD 429 to 534 and who sacked Rome in 455. Their name has remained a synonym for willful desecration or destruction.

Fleeing westward from the Huns at the beginning of the 5th century, the Vandals invaded and devastated parts of Gaul before settling in Spain in 409. There the Asdingi Vandals under King Gunderic became the ascendant group after attacks by allies of the Romans had dissipated the Silingi and Alani Vandals.

     =====

Rosetta Stone – Page 143

Ancient Egyptian stone bearing inscriptions the decipherment of which led to the understanding of hieroglyphic writing. An irregularly shaped stone of black basalt 3 ft 9 in. (114 cm) long and 2 ft 4 1/2 in. (72 cm) wide, and broken in antiquity, it was found near the town of Rosetta (Rashid), about 35 mi (56 km) northeast of Alexandria. It was discovered by a Frenchman named Bouchard or Boussard in August 1799. After the French surrender of Egypt in 1801, it passed into British hands and is now in the British Museum.

     =====

Cassandra – Page 203

in Greek mythology, the daughter of Priam, the last king of Troy, and his wife Hecuba. Cassandra was loved by the god Apollo, who promised her the power of prophecy if she would comply with his desires. Cassandra accepted the proposal, received the gift, and then refused the god her favours. Apollo revenged himself by ordaining that her prophecies should never be believed. She accurately predicted such events as the fall of Troy and the death of Agamemnon, but her warnings went unheeded. In the distribution of the spoils after the capture of Troy, Cassandra fell to Agamemnon and was later murdered with him. She was worshiped, as Alexandra, with Apollo. See also Agamemnon.

     =====

Matthew Arnold – Page 218

(1822 – 1888)

English Victorian poet and literary and social critic, noted especially for his classical attacks on the contemporary tastes and manners of the “Barbarians” (the aristocracy), the “Philistines” (the commercial middle class), and the “Populace.” He became the apostle of “culture” in such works as Culture and Anarchy (1869).

     =====

Susan B. Anthony – Page 251

(1820 – 1906)

in full SUSAN BROWNELL ANTHONY Susan B. Anthonypioneer crusader for the woman suffrage movement in the United States and president (1892-1900) of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Her work helped pave the way for the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote.

The Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin was introduced in 1979. The Coin Coalition, based in Washington, DC, reports that the Government Accounting Office studied the experience of the Anthony dollar. The GAO concluded that one of the reasons the Anthony dollar did not catch on was because the dollar bill was still being used. Cash retailers apparently did not want to count and store both paper and coin dollars. In addition, the dollar coins were too similar to quarters, both in look and feel.

     =====

Ray Carver – Page 270

“It’s strange. You never start out life with the intention of becoming a bankrupt or an alcoholic or a cheat and a thief. Or a liar.” — Raymond Carver

The American short story writer and poet Raymond Carver was born in Clatskanie, Oregon, on May 25, 1938, and lived in Port Angeles, Washington during his last ten, sober years until his death from cancer on August 2, 1988. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1979 and was twice awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1983 Carver received the prestigious Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award which gave him $35,000 per year tax free and required that he give up any employment other than writing, and in 1985 Poetry magazine’s Levinson Prize. In 1988 he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Hartford. He received a Brandeis Citation for fiction in 1988. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages.

     =====

Prufrock’s coffee spoons – Page 281

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965)

(I have measured out my life with coffee spoons)

     =====

Joe Namath – Page 306

(1943)

byname of JOSEPH WILLIAM NAMATH, also called JOE WILLIE, OR BROADWAY JOE, American collegiate and professional football quarterback who was one of the best passers in football.

     =====

Frederick Exley – Page 336

(1929-1992)

Born and raised in Watertown, NY, writer and novelist Frederick Exley is best known for his “fictional memoir” A Fan’s Notes, published in 1968. While the rest of Exley’s writing career was not as successful or lucrative as most of his contemporaries, critics and fans alike consider A Fan’s Notes to be a masterpiece of modern American fiction, earning Exley somewhat of a cult following. The substantially autobiographical work was the first and most acclaimed in a trilogy of novels including Pages from a Cold Island (1975) and Last Notes from Home (1988). Exley also contributed articles to a number of magazines throughout his career, including Esquire and Rolling Stone, the latter of which serialized four installments of Last Notes from Home prior to its publication as a novel by Random House.

     =====

Patsy Cline – Page 342

(1932 – 1963)

Country music legend, died in an airplane crash in Tennessee at the age of 31.

In 1973 she was elected posthumously to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and her reputation is on record as one of the major female vocalists of all time.

     =====

Pip and Joe Gargery – Page 346

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Pip (Philip Pirrip) – narrator. His ambition is to better himself socially. However, in doing this, he rejects many of his closest friends in order to achieve his goals.

Joe Gargery – Pip’s brother-in-law. He’s a gentle giant who is Pip’s best friend and father figure. He is a hard worker and a very moral man.

     =====

>Grendel (Beowulf) – Page 385

heroic poem, the highest achievement of Old English literature and the earliest European vernacular epic. Preserved in a single manuscript (Cotton Vitellius A XV) from c. 1000, it deals with events of the early 6th century and is believed to have been composed between 700 and 750. It did not appear in print until 1815. Although originally untitled, it was later named after the Scandinavian hero Beowulf, whose exploits and character provide its connecting theme. There is no evidence of a historical Beowulf, but some characters, sites, and events in the poem can be historically verified.

The poem falls into two parts. It opens in Denmark, where King Hrothgar’s splendid mead hall, Heorot, has been ravaged for 12 years by nightly visits from an evil monster, Grendel, who carries off Hrothgar’s warriors and devours them. Unexpectedly, young Beowulf, a prince of the Geats of southern Sweden, arrives with a small band of retainers and offers to cleanse Heorot of its monster. The King is astonished at the little-known hero’s daring but welcomes him, and after an evening of feasting, much courtesy, and some discourtesy, the King retires, leaving Beowulf in charge. During the night Grendel comes from the moors, tears open the heavy doors, and devours one of the sleeping Geats. He then grapples with Beowulf, whose powerful grip he cannot escape. He wrenches himself free, tearing off his arm, and leaves, mortally wounded.

     =====

Nolan Ryan – Page 386

(1947)

in full LYNN NOLAN RYAN, JR., American professional right-handed baseball pitcher, who in 1983 became the first pitcher to surpass Walter Johnson’s record of 3,508 career strikeouts, set in 1927.

     =====

 Dr. J. – Page 386

(1950)

Basketball player from 1971 through 1987: “While others played the game of basketball on the ground, Julius Erving performed above it. When he went up in the air, he stayed there for long periods of time, seemingly an irresistible force of nature as he improvised some acrobatic maneuver. He pushed the envelope of physical probability, soaring to unprecedented heights with a basketball in his size 11 hands.”

      =====

  

 Posted by Guillermo Maynez on 9/9/2002, 20:45:28 , in reply to “Re: Richard Russo’s Straight Man”

Well, I did like this novel. I don’t think it will be remembered in the future as a landmark of literature, but it sure was a pleasant reading.
I must say I liked the narrator and main character. Obviously, under the surface of his permanent sarcasms and one-liners, there is a more complex man, with hard memories from the past, difficult relationships with his parents and a stress that takes him to the hospital. I think that his collapse in the bathroom after several days of pressure is something similar to a nervous breakdown.
I also liked the wild scenes, especially, of course, the stranglement of the duck (OK, goose) and Hank’s sense of humor.

Another thing liked was how Russo makes bitter fun of all the frivolities and silliness of contemporary political correctness (Orshee, lesbians, etc.) It must be maddening for any sane person to live in that cultural environment of many American universities (or perhaps all of them?)
So I found the story very human, even for all its caricature features. It has a touch of tenderness behind ironies and bitterness. I would definitely take a look at another Russo’s book. Some passages are going to be hard to forget.
Do I think it is a masterpiece? Well, I’m not thinking much about that. It’s probably not, but sometimes this kind of reading is just pleasant, even if you are still able to appreciate the greatness of the true masterpieces.

  ~~

 Posted by Guillermo Maynez on 11/9/2002, 0:43:34

(in reference to the excerpt: “But my daughter belongs to a talk show generation that seems to be losing the ability to discriminate between public and private woes. She sees no reason she shouldn’t tell her friends … “)
Well, this is an example that “Straight Man” was not only a hilarious romp, but also contained some interesting ideas about people and situations.

 These included Hanks’ relationships with his parents, wife (he seems to really love her and she seems to be a good woman -I would have liked to know more about her), daughters and, above all, friends. Hank really seems to care about them.

  ~~

 Posted by by Dave on 13/10/2002, 6:53:03

I find that I agree 100% with Anna’s review of this book, and I am tempted to just cut & paste her comments in my allotted space here. Right on down to the “three stars for me” line. (I give the book three “hearts”, remember we only recognize readliterature currency here)!
This is not to say that I did not like the book though. Especially since I read it AFTER reading The Vivisector, not before. I needed to get into something light, and Straight Man was just the ticket. But, it’s just, as Anna so aptly put it, the book is not “a work of literature”. It was rather like a good sitcom, and in fact, several times in Straight Man I thought, “Wow, this could SO happen in a sitcom!”

My particular favorite instance is not so much the initial strangling-of-the-goose episode, but the part where Hank urinates all over himself, and ends up in the ceiling afterwards, overlooking the very meeting where his fate is being discussed and voted on. Oh ya, I was smiling throughout this part… it is all so on the very edge of something that could actually happen. (At least in a good sitcom).

And then, to top it off, he has to lock himself into the woman’s washroom to avoid being discovered by his colleagues. It’s all very funny.

But I found Hank Devereaux to be very trying on my patience. He may be the “straight man” but he certainly never gave anyone a straight answer about anything. I find these type of people in real life to be terribly exasperating. They keep you waiting, and then when they get there, you wish they’d leave.
I loved the part where Jacob leans into Hank and asks “What… the…$%#@…do you…WANT?”
That’s exactly what I would have said to him by then.
There’s just no pleasing this guy!
But of course, Russo WANTED for the character to come off this way, and so, in the end, he did a good job of it, in my opinion.

And I must add that I LIKED the more introspective, toned-down, freely-peeing, retired Henry Devereaux of the Epilogue!Would I read more of Russo? Oh for sure. I’ve checked out Empire Falls and it looks like it would be quite good.
Here are two new words I discovered in the pages of Straight Man:

* “there’re” (p.124)

* “lip-farts” (p.281)

Two of my favorite sentences:

“My mother has always been the sort of woman whose emotional state can be intuited from the volume at which she rattles kitchen utensils.” (p.92-93)

“One of the deepest purposes of intellectual sophistication is to provide distance between us and our most disturbing personal truths and gnawing fears.” (p.382)

Straight Man: A Novel
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Straight Man – Richard Russo – 1952

 


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