Hilarious and true-to-life, witty, compassionate, and impossible to put down, Straight Man follows Hank Devereaux through one very bad week in this novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo.
William Henry Devereaux, Jr., is the reluctant chairman of the English department of a badly underfunded college in the Pennsylvania rust belt. Devereaux's reluctance is partly rooted in his character--he is a born anarchist--and partly in the fact that his department is more savagely divided than the Balkans.
In the course of a single week, Devereaux will have his nose mangled by an angry colleague, imagine his wife is having an affair with his dean, wonder if a curvaceous adjunct is trying to seduce him with peach pits, and threaten to execute a goose on local television. All this while coming to terms with his philandering father, the dereliction of his youthful promise, and the ominous failure of certain vital body functions. In short, Straight Man is classic Russo--side-splitting, poignant, compassionate, and unforgettable.
"Hank Devereaux was voted interim chair of the English department at a Pennsylvania college based on his loudly voiced contempt for bureaucratic procedures. Long mired in old grievances and thwarted ambitions, the contentious English faculty figure they can count on Hank to do absolutely nothing, thereby preserving the status quo. They figured wrong. Perpetual wise guy Hank has managed to stir things up on all fronts: he's goaded the reigning campus poetess into gouging him with a spiral notebook, bringing the faculty meeting to a screeching halt as the janitor attempts to remove the offending notebook from his nose; he's been broadcast on all the early-morning TV shows, while wearing a Groucho Marx^-style fake nose and glasses, threatening to kill one of the ubiquitous campus ducks unless the administration releases his budget; and he's enraged both the administration and the union with his dearly held motto: A pox on both your houses. In the highly satisfying conclusion, a shakeout results in all the wiseacres being richly rewarded while the bean-counting bureaucrats are bounced. Leaving behind his trademark blue-collar milieu (Nobody's Fool , made into a movie starring Paul Newman), Russo has lost none of his gifts for fashioning wry comedy, endearing characters, and an artful blend of high jinks and heartache. Like Michael Malone in Foolscap (1991), another rollicking academic satire, Russo proves himself a master of bighearted, old-fashioned storytelling. --Joanne Wilkinson"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"Picture this: William Henry (Hank) Devereaux Jr., tenured professor at a second-rank college in Pennsylvania, where he is chairman of the fractious English Department, faces TV cameras wearing a false nose and glasses, brandishing a goose over his head and threatening to kill a duck a day until he gets a budget. It's a vintage Russo scene, and there are others like it in this hilarious, wise and compassionate novel. Pushing 50, Hank is suffering a midlife crisis he will not acknowledge. After his miserable childhood as the son of a chilly mother and a downright icy fathera renowned professor, literary critic and adultererHank has avoided confrontation with his emotions. He jokes about his mediocre job, his lack of self-esteem (his one novel, 20 years ago, got good reviews but didn't sell) and his role as goad and gadfly to his friends and enemies. During the course of the novel, which begins with the burial of one dog and ends with the interment of another, Hank manages to get himself in continuous trouble, in jail, in a ladies room (where he attempts to divest himself of the pants, shoe and sock he has peed in), in the hospital and out of a job. Meanwhile, Russo concocts an inspired send-up of academia's infighting and petty intrigues that ranks with the best of David Lodge, as we follow Hank's progress from perverse mockery to insight and acceptance. Readers who do not laugh uncontrollably during this raucous, witty and touching work are seriously impaired. Random House audio; author tour. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
|| New York :Vintage contemporaries,1998.
||1st Vintage contemporaries ed.
xvii, 391 pages ; 21 cm