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Return to a literary touchstone.

EVERYBODY'S FOOL

By Richard Russo

Knopf, $27.95, 496 pages

ISBN 9780307270641, audio, eBook available

LITERARY FICTION

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Everybody's Fool takes place over two very eventful days in the lives of North Bath's residents. Donald "Sully" Sullivan is staring down some bad health news and wondering how to break it to the important people in his life. But in the background, the intrigue and drama of small-town life--romantic affairs, financial struggles, gossip--rumble on. Russo's comic ability and his nimbleness in laying bare the human heart have never been more powerful.

What made you want to revisit the character of Sully Sullivan?

My pal Howard Frank Mosher, to whom Everybody's Fool is dedicated, has been after me to write another Sully novel for over a decade, and I finally gave in. But the book's real genesis was a great story somebody told me several years ago about a local cop. In his wife's car he found a garage door remote that didn't open their garage, and he leapt to the conclusion that she must be having an affair. The guy actually went around town with the remote, hoping to find out whose garage it would open. Thinking to myself, "Who would do such a thing?" I remembered officer Raymer, Sully's old nemesis from Nobody's Fool. And I was off to the races.

Much of your fiction is set in struggling upstate New York towns not unlike your hometown of Gloversville. What is it about this territory that has so captured your imagination as a writer?

In the end, it's more the people than the setting. As a young man I left Gloversville determined to find my destiny in some finer place. I loved the University of Arizona and my life in Tucson, loved the idea of living the life of the mind among people who shared my newfound values. But summers I returned home to work road construction with my father, and gradually it came to me that, while I was attracted to my new friends and my new life out West, the people I loved most--my grandparents, my father and his pals, my cousins, some old friends--were all in the place I'd left behind. The larger world was ignoring these folks, the lives they led, their struggles to find dignity in hard work and family, their kindness and modesty.

After writing a memoir, Elsewhere, how did it feel to return to novel-length fiction?

Returning to novel-writing was exhilarating. Unfettered by facts, my imagination could once again slip its leash. That said, the new book offers up a very large canvas with a lot of characters, all of whom wanted their say. Trying to fit all of their stories and backstories into that two-day time frame just about drove me crazy. The scary thing about writing novels is that they're all different. What worked last time, won't this time, and there's always that little voice that whispers to you that this time you've bitten off more than you can chew, and you've located the very story that will show you who's boss (not you).

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This novel is nearly 500 pages. Did you have any concerns about writing a longer book in an age when readers' attention spans are supposed to be shrinking to the size of tweets?

I suspect it's true that people's attention spans are shrinking ... but people still love to dream deeply. Throughout the ages, art has always demanded that we slow down, and the faster our lives go, the more we seem to appreciate the reprieve that art--good writing, good paintings, good films, good photographs--offers. Do tweets offer real, lasting satisfaction to anyone? Does Instagram?

Are there any writers who serve as your literary role models?

Like many readers, I was deeply saddened to lose Kent Haruf last year. He was not only a great writer, but also a great man. He went about his work with great seriousness and modesty, caring not one iota about fame or fortune, but only the work, always the work. I've never known a kinder man or a more honest one.

What's your next project?

Next up is a collection of short fiction, and after that a selection of essays about imagination, destiny and the writing life. My daughter Kate and I are also hoping to collaborate on a screenplay based on the last few years of Shirley Jackson's life, when she was writing We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
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Title Annotation:features: RICHARD RUSSO; Everybody's Fool
Author:Freedenberg, Harvey
Publication:BookPage
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2016
Words:742
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