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.
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 father--a renowned professor, literary critic and adulterer--Hank 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.