I picked this title up out of curiosity. The Cameron Village Library’s Evening Book Club had selected it for discussion, and after talking with the group’s facilitator, I decided to give it a try. I chose the audio version (WCPL owns it only on cassette) for this foray into adult literature (I am primarily a youth services librarian), although I have since re-read the book in its print form.
I hated it at the beginning. As I drove and listened, I thought, “Oh, man. What am I doing listening to a book about a middle-aged man having a mid-life crisis? This stinks!” But, for some reason, I kept giving it a chance. I am not sorry in the least that I persevered.
Straight Man is the story of Hank Devereaux, Jr.: middle-aged English department interim chair at a Podunk branch of the Pennsylvania state university system. Hank is about as go-nowhere as a man can get, but his sly observations on the people who populate his daily existence, and his constant attempts to get their collective goat are what keep him going. The story unfolds as Hank’s wife leaves him alone at home for the weekend. Hank proceeds to tangle with just about everybody who crosses his path, setting off a humorous chain of events that compounds minor catastrophes into one big turning point for Hank.
Listening to Straight Man turned out to be a delight. Reading the book again in print, I found it even more hilarious. Perhaps this is because I got to see Russo at work – I got to pay close attention to the writing, instead of just absorbing the story. The story itself flows from its inhabitants. Russo gets characterization just right – even his punctuation contributes to the crystal clear images of the people he’s chosen to tell his story, making Straight Man a winner for anyone who is in the market for an entertaining, character-driven novel.
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