I LOVED this book. As a person who places a high value on seeing the ridiculous in life's ordinary moments, AND as the wife of a college professor, I enjoyed this book more than any I have read in a long time. The author captures the absurdities of the academic career, where the struggle for power is paramount. I found myself laughing out loud many times.
The plot twists around a professor(sans PhD) in a small western Pennsylvania coed university, William Henry Devereaux Jr. by name. He tells the tale of a small segment of his life as he rounds age 50. His wife, who is a high school teacher, is out of town. It is time for the powers that be to set the University budget for the coming year causing great paranoia among the faculty. Hank, as he prefers to be known, is the acting head of the English dept. and is therefore in charge of the hiring and firing list. There are many sub-plots and an interesting group of characters. If I were grading the book I would give it a C because I couldn't identify with the main protagonist, and an A for clever, if doubtful manipulation of circumstance, characters, timing and plot.
Russo is clever and sarcastic and had me laughing out loud at the turn of every page. I agree with the New York Times Book Review, "The funniest serious novel I have read..." It was so nice to pick up a story that may have serious life topics, but dealt with them in a lighthearted, hopeful way.
I read this book just as I was starting out as a faculty member at an unnamed university in an unnamed health sciences department. The funny thing was, all the stock characters in "Straight Man" were in my department, too! To describe my version of Russo's misadventures would be to jeopardize my life and livelihood (you know how small the academic world can be in any specialty); suffice to say that I was so very, very grateful to have a secret chuckle (and sometimes a very difficult-to-suppress guffaw) thanks to Russo's artful and hilarious satire of life on the faculty of an English department at a small New England liberal arts college.
Mandatory reading for anyone aspiring to make a living in academia, or anyone already suffering through academic life (time distorts horribly during those mandatory faculty meetings)!
Terrific Russo, but slightly different than other books. Rather than dealing with blue collar, small town America, it takes you into the politics of academia, providing a satirical look at that very incestuous world.
Fabulous. You know how sometimes you order dessert and the whole time you're eating it, you think, "Oh my gosh, this tastes so good..."? This book captures that wholly satisfied feeling of sitting down to something that's just perfect. Funny, real characters in sometimes ridiculous situations, complex relationship dynamics (wife and husband, father and daughter, colleague and department chair) make for interesting reading. I've read this one a few times, and every time, I thoroughly enjoy it. Perfect for people who have had experience in higher education (especially English). As with all Russo, it's not just comedy; Russo examines spousal abuse, infidelity, alcoholism, childhood tragedies, midlife crises, insecurities, bladder problems and waterfowl murder. Smart, smart book.
I haven't quite sorted out all my feelings about it; part of me, probably most of me enjoyed it while I was reading it. Russo writes with a dry, clever wit that I appreciate, and he tells his story without unnecessary embellishments. His characters speak for themselves, and Russo certainly creates interesting characters. Set in a dysfunctional English department in a dysfunctional rural college, you get glimpses of a world that is likely quite foreign to you, and yet, you still feel a sense of companionship and of a shared experience at times. His main character, William Henry Deveraux, Jr., is someone that you feel for, but someone I don't fully understand, and likely never will. But then, he doesn't understand himself either - "Which is why we have spouses and children and parents and colleagues and friends, because someone has to know us better than we know ourselves." Anyway - an interesting book, though it sometimes felt a bit long. I'm also trying to connect the Russo that authored this book to the Russo that Jenny Boylan discusses in "She's Not There" and I think that I can see a resemblance. Loose cannons, but loyal in the end.
Written almost like stream-of-conscious, this book is full of dark humor and cynical views on life. Not a book I'd take to the beach, but a look inside the mind of a troubled individual who mostly wants to do good.
Every book I read by Richard Russo impresses me anew with his command of writing. He can make me laugh in one sentence, and tug at my heartstrings with the next. Anyone who's worked in an academic environment will recognize the characters, the personality conflicts, and the petty political posturing going on in this story. A joy to read!
Russo's main character, William Henry Devereaux, Jr. carries on a harsh inner dialogue about himself and what others think of him. It is easy to relate to this man who views himself as flawed and weak. The reader cheers him on and applauds his integrity throughout the book, hoping that he can at some point recognize his true value. As a bonus, this book is laugh-out-loud funny to boot. I loved it.
An amusing book about an eccentric's life in academia. As a former university professor of psychology, I had many laughs though out the narrative. If interested in the subject, I would recommend the book as a good read.
Adam C. reviewed Straight Man : A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) on
If you appreciate dry wit with heavy doses of sarcasm then you can't miss with this book. If that's not your type of humor then you may become bored with the main character's steady stream of one-liner's and jokes.
"[Russo] skewers academic pretensions and infighting with mad abandon ... in a clear and musuclar prose that is a pleasure to read ... I had to stop often to guffaw, gasp, wheeze and wipe away my tears."
-- Henry Kisor, Chicago Sun-Times