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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
In many ways, William Henry “Hank” Devereaux, Jr., is the quintessential English professor: He’s brilliant, witty, and a little bit out of his mind. On the eve of Hank’s 50th birthday, his life starts to fall apart. All the professional and personal encounters that send Hank spiraling—with clueless students, drunken co-workers, visiting poets, and an ill-tempered goose—are laugh-out-loud ridiculous. Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Empire Falls, is a master of slipping earnest, deeply felt sentiments into even his funniest novels. Hank’s quirky sense of humor and obvious sensitivity keep Russo’s protagonist in our good graces, even as he makes a bigger and bigger fool of himself. Straight Man invites us to learn from its hero’s hilarious mistakes—Hank’s week from hell ultimately provides some truly beautiful rules for living.
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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
My favorite Richard Russo so far
I have read several of Mr. Russo's novels. This was absolutely my favorite. A great read, funny and poignant. I hated it to end. Highly recommend.
I enjoy books in academic settings and Straight Man is just a good story to read and enjoy. Russo creates interesting characters who you become involved with & actually care how they turn out, unlike many fiction books...EAF
In My Top 20
"Straight Man" is my personal favorite by Richard Russo and ranks among my very favorite books of all time. I'm astounded a reviewer found it lacking, but I can surmise the person who wrote the review is quite young. After pondering it for a bit, I do see how Mr Russo's wit appeals better to those who've experienced the ups and downs of mature relationships, a mid-career crisis or two, and a viewpoint tarnished by having lived long enough to figure out that things rarely turn out at 40 or 50 or 60 as we had planned when we were 20. This truly is laugh-out-loud hilarious but with a poignancy that touched my heart. For those who've been around the block of life a few times, you will surely enjoy every page of "Straight Man."