Black humour abounds

Everybody's Fool, Richard Russo's follow-up to Nobody's Fool, published 10 years ago, uses a deteriorating burial ground as a metaphor for a small American town going through hard times.

Richard Russo
Allen & Unwin


Death is not a subject usually subjected to mocking, yet Richard Russo's opening - and wickedly funny - description of a troubled burial ground had me captured.

The black humour abounds throughout. Russo leads his readers on to meet the main character, local police chief Douglas Raynor, who morosely ruminates over his occupation and what it demands of him, including the mission he is now on, having to attend the funeral of an irascible judge who had disdained him for the better part of two decades.

His thoughts, as he listens to the eulogy, roam over recent unfortunate events he's been through, and the contrast between an odious reverend's "breathtaking self-assurance'' and his own torturous self-doubt; "allowing other people's opinions about him to trump his own so thoroughly that he was never actually sure he had any''.

I could find quotable phrases on every page and it's as well that Russo has such a wonderfully shrewd way with words, because many of his characters are deeply flawed, not instantly likeable and not particularly good company for bedtime reading.

This book is a follow-up to Nobody's Fool, published 10 years earlier. The burial ground, in its deteriorating state, could be a metaphor for the small American town of North Bath in which it's set. Both the town and its inhabitants feel forgotten and are going through hard times.

Male characters dominate, but (happily for his female readership) the most sensible and likeable ones are Charice, Raynor's efficient offsider and Miss Beryl, his inspirational but deceased ex-teacher. Without their lightening presence and Russo's wit, the story could be heavy going, leaving its readers predicting a bleak outlook for the future of this segment of American society.

Patricia Thwaites is a retired Dunedin schoolteacher.


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