Friday, September 29, 2006

96. "Straight Man" ~ Richard Russo

Straight Man: a book to put aside when sending out multiple C.V.s to universities/colleges, particularly for positions in an English department.

"In English departments the most serious competition is for the role of straight man." This can be interpreted several ways, but according to the narrator, William Henry Devereaux, Jr., he is quite literal. Every line is a quip, a joke, but when the department - and the entire university - begin to panic about budget cuts and professor terminations, his wit is unappreciated and interpreted as a commitment to the college's needs, even if it costs all of his friendships.

In fact, "Hank" (which he goes by to distinguish himself from his father, who is also the father of modern literary criticism) just has blinders on. He doesn't see the state of his daughter's marriage. He doesn't recognize the potential for disaster at the college. So when he puts on a fake nose and glasses and threatens on a newscast to kill a duck a day until he gets his budget, he was joking. Or was he?

Russo's portrayal of the stereotypical middle-aged man coming to an understanding of his role in relationships/life/career is far from a cliche. In fact, Russo plays the straight man, letting his characters speak for themselves. A sassy take on an ancient subject.

4.5 out of 5.0 Ruptured Ducks.


Joy said...

Hi...I have been enjoying your blog. Would you mind if I added you to my links?

Les said...

I need to go back and find my review for this, but as I recall, I enjoyed it tremendously. More so than Empire Falls or Nobody's Fool. Russo is quite a funny guy, don't you think?

Kristin Dodge said...

Joy... absolutely, and may I return the favor?

Les... I really liked "Empire Falls," but this book shredded that one to pieces. I want to be Hank with his "whatme worry" attitude.

Joy said...

Kristen ~ Oh good! :) And sure, I'd love to be added on. Thanks.