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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.

Critic Reviews

"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 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 Ratings


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  • Overall
  • Thomas
  • Omaha, NE, United States
  • 06-02-05

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.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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!

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • JOHN
  • Plantation, FL, United States
  • 11-25-07

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!

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Dan
  • Tacoma, WA, USA
  • 04-15-05

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

  • Overall

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.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Janice
  • Sugar Land, TX, United States
  • 02-05-15


Maybe if I didn't have such high expectations for Russo’s writing ability I would have enjoyed Straight Man better. And to be fair, the writing IS good – it’s the story that disappointed. Underachieving academics trying to survive their own mediocrity in an atmosphere of budget cuts and departmental backstabbing had potential and started out well, but the whining and self-pity got old and I just wanted to tell everyone to grow up. The choice of first person viewpoint didn't help, as supporting characters can only be known through the protagonist’s perceptions, leaving them somewhat flat. It seemed that Russo tried to fluff them up a bit through silly quirks, but it didn't work well for me. I much preferred the subtle ironic humor of “Nobody’s Fool” to the forced silliness of “Straight Man”. At one point Devereaux’s mother chided him for his literary laziness saying he had “become a clever man”. That line summarized my feelings about Russo’s effort here.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Claudine
  • ESCONDIDO, CA, United States
  • 09-22-17

Couldnt Finish It

I tried to give this book a chance but it went nowhere for too long. The story seemed to have no point or purpose and the manner which is was constructed was just not enjoyable for me. Maybe it gets better later on in the book but I think after 3 and a half hours of listening - you should be able to get a book moving.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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witty but not funny

Any additional comments?

OMG, I've been struggling with this book for what seems like forever. I've been recommended to read it because I like David Lodge's novels about academics, and it is in no way like David Lodge. It's boring, the plot is weak, and the best chapter so far is the very beginning about the dog. Uff.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Frank
  • North Carolina
  • 05-22-08

Absolutely great

This immediately became one of my favorite novels. The characters are interesting, funny, and completely believable. (If you have spent any time working in higher education, you will able to recognize the characters and their foibles from your own experience.) I cannot say enough good things about this novel.

I only have two regrets: (1) that Audible does not have all of the author's books in its library, and (2) that the reader has not recorded more books of interest to me (I am not a fan of Danielle Steel or Robert James Waller) - he did a great job.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • stew
  • 12-03-11


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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • hfffoman
  • 02-27-14

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • J. Davis
  • 12-31-13

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.

  • Overall
  • Alice
  • 04-07-13

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.