Everybody's Fool once again takes us to the small upstate New York town of North Bath just a bit more than a decade after the events of Nobody's Fool. The town is still the hapless poor relation of its neighboring town and chief rival Schuyler Springs and on the surface things seem pretty much as we left them. But, inevitably, time has made a few changes at least in the cast of characters.
Sadly, Miss Beryl, the woman who taught eighth grade for many years at the local school and whom we met as Donald (Sully) Sullivan's beloved landlady in the last book, is no longer on the scene. However, even though she may be physically absent, her spirit lingers and as we visit North Bath this time around, the town is getting ready to honor her memory during Memorial Day festivities by renaming the school after her.
Sully is still there and he and Miss Beryl seem to have exchanged roles. For many years, he had been her boarder in her big Victorian house on North Main Street; now it seems that Miss Beryl is his boarder, having taken up residence in his head where she continues to carry on the conversations that they both enjoyed over the years.
Most of the other quirky characters that we met in Nobody's Fool are still here, with a few changes in their circumstances. Doug Raymer, the policeman whom we last saw accidentally discharging his gun and getting decked by Sully, is now, surprisingly, the chief of police. He is beset by insecurities, believing that he is no good at his job and, furthermore, he is obsessed to the point of distraction over learning the identity of the man that his wife had been planning to run away with a year earlier. The getaway had never happened because she was killed in a freak accident as she was getting ready to leave.
Poor hapless Rub Squeers is still around, as well, still beset by worries that he's not really Sully's best friend. But at least his financial circumstances are somewhat improved since he now has a regular job with the city.
It is Sully's circumstances that have changed most drastically. He had an incredible run of good luck following the end of Nobody's Fool and, finally, in his eighth decade, he is free of worry about where his next dollar is coming from.
All is not rosy for Sully, however. A life of drinking too much, smoking too much, eating the wrong things, and generally not taking care of his body is catching up with him. The cardiologists at the VA clinic have told him that, at best, he might have two years left, but more likely one, and he's often in pain and out of breath. But irascible and stubborn as ever. His friends, including Ruth, the woman with whom he carried on an affair for so many years, worry about him. They can see that something is wrong, but he hasn't confided in any of them.
One new character bears mentioning. Charice works behind a desk at the police department and longs to get out into the field and do real police work. She is the smartest person in the department and she harbors an affection for the chief although she would never let on. Raymer, likewise, has an unacknowledged interest in Charice, but would this stuck-in-the-past town ever accept a white police chief's romantic alliance with a black subordinate?
And so time and events rock on in North Bath. People plan and scheme and mostly their plans and schemes go awry. A very bad guy finally gets his comeuppance but not before he has done inestimable harm to others. And the irrepressible Sully faces his own mortality.
Richard Russo really knows how to tell a story of these small towns. He fills North Bath with characters that are irresistibly human with all their foibles and sometimes their unexpected nobility. He tells their stories with great humor and empathy and makes us see them as three-dimensional individuals that we can care about and perhaps learn from. That is a significant achievement by a writer and Russo excels at it.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars