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Straight Man | [Richard Russo]

Straight Man

Russo's protagonist is William Henry Devereaux, Jr., the reluctant chairman of the English department of a badly underfunded college in the Pennsylvania rust belt. 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.
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Publisher's Summary

In this uproarious novel, Richard Russo performs his characteristic high-wire walk between hilarity and heartbreak. Russo's protagonist is William Henry Devereaux, Jr., 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 and true-to-life, witty, compassionate, and impossible to put down.

© 1997 Richard Russo; (P) 2003 Random House, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"There is a big, wry heart beating at the center of Russo's fiction." (The New Yorker)
"[Russo] skewers academic pretensions and infighting with mad abandon...in a clear and muscular prose that is a pleasure to read...I had to stop often to guffaw, gasp, wheeze and wipe away my tears." (Chicago Sun-Times)
"Russo can penetrate to the tender quick of ordinary, American lives." (Entertainment Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (472 )
5 star
 (218)
4 star
 (136)
3 star
 (78)
2 star
 (22)
1 star
 (18)
Overall
4.0 (183 )
5 star
 (84)
4 star
 (52)
3 star
 (26)
2 star
 (14)
1 star
 (7)
Story
4.2 (181 )
5 star
 (87)
4 star
 (61)
3 star
 (22)
2 star
 (4)
1 star
 (7)
Performance
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  •  
    Jeffrey A. Sherman Broomfield, CO USA 01-09-04
    Jeffrey A. Sherman Broomfield, CO USA 01-09-04 Member Since 2001
    HELPFUL VOTES
    44
    ratings
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    "Shockingly good"

    I bought this book after seeing it in a Staff Recommendations rack. It is the funniest non Comedy book I have ever read. I have bought copies for several friends and have read several Russo books since. He is terrific.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Thomas Omaha, NE, United States 06-02-05
    Thomas Omaha, NE, United States 06-02-05
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
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    "one of my favorite books"

    This was one of the most entertaining and engaging books I have come across in some time. The central character is an interesa fascinating,irritating, yet lovably hilarious excuse for a grown-up. He was a wonderful mixture of insightfulness and cluelessness. There are some terrific moments along the way that had me falling out of my chair with laughter-- then I'd climb back in to my chair to "re-read" the passage again and enjoy it once more. My wife was so intrigued by how I gleefully devoured this book that she had to read it herself. She loved it too! And so have each of my friends who I have convinced to read it.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Holly Abery-Wetstone West Hartford, CT USA 10-17-03
    Holly Abery-Wetstone West Hartford, CT USA 10-17-03 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    14
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    "Straight Man"

    This is the funniest book I have listened to since John Grisham's Skipping Christmas. It is a hilarious account of the trouble a middle aged college professor can find while his wife is away for several days. Russo's writing combines humor with the trials and tribulations of growing old or should I say growing up? A must listen!

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    JOHN Plantation, FL, United States 11-25-07
    JOHN Plantation, FL, United States 11-25-07 Member Since 2003

    Audible Member Since 2003

    HELPFUL VOTES
    510
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    430
    66
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    FOLLOWING
    30
    3
    Overall
    "Russo Rocks!"

    So I gave it only 4 stars. This isn't because Straight Man isn't wonderful. Perhaps when I compare it to the richness of Empire Falls and Nobody's Fool, it just doesn't quite fill those shoes. But don't let this stop you.

    In some ways I enjoyed this book more than the other Russo books I have had the pleasure to listen to. This book was funnier. And I could not help but wonder how much of the protagonist, Hank Devereaux, was really Richard Russo himself as an irreverant wise-cracking head of a college English department.

    Devereaux's own mother criticized her son telling him "you've become a clever man." To understand how this is considered a fault, you really have to listen to this book.

    One hundred percent enjoyable!

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dan Tacoma, WA, USA 04-15-05
    Dan Tacoma, WA, USA 04-15-05
    HELPFUL VOTES
    35
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    9
    9
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    Overall
    "Great fun--give this a try!"

    Hilarious satire combined with warm sympathetic characters. The satire is funny but never cruel--difficult balance to maintain but Russo pulls it off. Delicious send-up of pompous college administrators and members of the college English department. Even when Russo is at his satiric best, almost all of the characters, though flawed, are presented as sympathetic complex human beings. I laughed alot--sometimes so hard that I had to stop listening. All in all, a wonderfully entertaining, intelligent and humane book--highly recommend.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris D Perkasie, PA, USA 11-16-03
    Chris D Perkasie, PA, USA 11-16-03 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
    52
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    "Laughing out loud..."

    If you don't read this book, I'll kill one duck a day (goose) until there are no more ducks (geese).:) Really funny. I loved it and will listen to it again.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bonny Flemington, NJ, United States 10-25-11
    Bonny Flemington, NJ, United States 10-25-11 Member Since 2009

    Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Really a 2.5 star book"

    Straight Man is really a 2.5 star book, but a good cup of coffee has made me feel generous in rounding. I was looking for something that was laugh out loud funny, and there were several occasions that I did just that, but not enough to make this a worthwhile read. Overall, the book struck me as more sad than humorous. William Henry Devereaux Jr. is the chairman of a small Pennsylvania state college English department. He doesn't take anything seriously, and the book evolves into a series of stories, conversations, ridiculous situations, and Hank's thoughts while the caricature characters worry about budget cuts and hit each other. Hank prattles on about Occam's razor and the status of his urinary tract far too much for me. I'm not in a position to judge whether this accurately reflects the personalities, interactions, and craziness of a college English department, but too much struck me as far-fetched and absurd. I will have to try some other authors (Jane Smiley, David Lodge) in search of good academic humor.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andy BirminghamUnited Kingdom 03-12-04
    Andy BirminghamUnited Kingdom 03-12-04
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Who says the campus novel is a dead duck?"

    There are just not enough novels with 49 year old men who are kind of clever but not terribly good at anything as heros. This is certainly the funniest one in the genre I have ever read. Like the other reviewers I laughed out loud many times.
    Plenty happens - there is love, death, problems with the waterworks and literary criticsm. What more can you want?

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dominic west valley city, UT, USA 03-19-05
    Dominic west valley city, UT, USA 03-19-05
    HELPFUL VOTES
    21
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    4
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    "not his best"

    Having read Empire Falls and Nobody's Fool before listening to this book
    I would reccomend one of those two first. This book does create memorable characters but I came away with the impression of a kind of mid-life crisis book. I really enjoy this author. This is not a action oriented book but is worth listening because of his strength as a writer.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mary Austin, TX, USA 11-16-13
    Mary Austin, TX, USA 11-16-13 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "One of my favorite books, and great narration"

    OK, this is Mary's husband.

    This is the second time I've listened to this book in the last 3.5 years, and it's fabulous -- I laugh uncontrollably. It probably helps if you're an ex-University rat, but the narrator is wonderful -- dry, ironic, with perfect timing. I love Richard Russo's work but I wish they had used Sam Freed for his other books.

    Right up there with Lucky Jim as one of my favorite books.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 36 results PREVIOUS124NEXT
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  • stew
    Radstock, United Kingdom
    12/3/11
    Overall
    "Masterful"

    Russo has a control over his craft which must the envy of other writers. He creates characters so real in settings so believable that you instantly forget this is fiction and assume you are reading about people you know. This is one of his funnier books but the deceptive simplicity, the easy pace and the genuine characters you expect from one of his books are all there.
    I love the unhurried way he allows this story to unfold, the subtle building of tension and the fact that I care about all of the people in the narrative.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • hfffoman
    Kent
    2/27/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Full of subtle wit and insight"
    What made the experience of listening to Straight Man the most enjoyable?

    A delightful listen from beginning to end, packed with subtle and wry observations on all the characters. Although the story is essentially silly and focuses largely on the characters foibles and weakness, it does so with wisdom and kindness.


    Have you listened to any of Sam Freed’s other performances? How does this one compare?

    The narrator of Richard Russo's Risk Pool was much better. Sam Freed is a competent reader and captures the subtle wit but isn't one of my favourite voices and there were many occasions when I was confused whether a sentence was dialogue or reflection.


    Any additional comments?

    I was so pleased with Risk Pool I went straight on to this by the same author. My enthusiasm is still high so I will try a third.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • J. Davis
    London
    12/31/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Good story let down by a poor narration."
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    This was an enjoyable story which was time well spent, marred by the fact that Sam Freed's narration is devoid of nuance.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Straight Man?

    The episode where Hank first threatens to kill a duck a day was a highlight of the plot.


    What didn’t you like about Sam Freed’s performance?

    When there is a lot of dialogue it sometimes becomes confusing, because he makes little effort to change tone for each character. Otherwise, he is quite good in his delivery.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Alice
    Derby, United Kingdom
    4/7/13
    Overall
    "Loved it"

    I have long been a fan of Richard Russo and particularly have enjoyed listening to his books as talking books, as the readers bring the characters to life so well.



    This book kept me involved from start to finish. I loved the different characters and their (often surprising) interactions. Sometimes I felt the 'hero' went too far but he always then did something that redeemed him - in my view.



    At the end, I felt I had lost some good friends and I look forward to listening to another book by the same author, also to listening to this again after a few months.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-4 of 4 results

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