Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Real Sitcom of a Book

Straight Man, by Richard Russo. Published June 1997.
This book came to me at a time when I needed a bit of a laugh, and I admit, it did lift me out of the doldrums. It's quite a funny story overall. Not what I would call great “literature” by any means.
But then, who am I?
Harold Bloom?

Several times while reading Straight Man I felt that it was like watching an alright sitcom.
The main character Hank Devereaux Jr. manages to get himself into some really crazy predicaments (my favorite being the time he was trapped in the ceiling overlooking the meeting where his fate is being decided upon). If these, and many other similar scenes don't make the reader laugh out loud, they will at least cause a smirk or smile. Also the scene with the ducks. [The cover of the book, shown here, is not.... arbitrarily chosen.]
But the book, the STORY, I did not find all that compelling. Not very deep! (Again, like a sitcom).

The gist: As chair of the English department in a university, Hank is hit with budget demands that call for a 20% reduction in staff. While his colleagues are suspicious of where his allegiances lie, Hank juggles his own personal problems, which include a blocked urethra; the possibility of his own marriage falling apart; the surety of his daughter's marital problems, and the problem of living in his father's shadow of greatness.

But this Hank began to annoy me. He is the kind of person that never gives anyone a "straight" answer about anything... he keeps everyone else in his life waiting, and offending other people does not concern him whatsoever.
If he could only appreciate the value of keeping friends onside!
The redeeming grace of this book is the superb Epilogue. I found that I liked (and understood) the Hank of the Epilogue.
Its worth getting to the Epilogue.

Straight Man is more like ice cream than meat and potatoes. A well-written jolt of calories that makes no promises about long-term nutrition.



danielle said...

Ice cream is good sometimes.

Stefanie said...

Sounds funny, and sometimes ice cream hits the spot just right--or in my case it would be Tofutti, Soy Dream, or Oatscream :)

Dorothy W. said...

I liked this book -- although maybe working at a college helps me to appreciate the humor ...

cipriano said...

I agree with all of you... ice cream is nice sometimes.
Sometimes I can be too serious, and a book like Straight Man, it can be just what the doctoral candidate ordered!