Straight Man

Straight Man

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Audiobook(Cassette - Unabridged, 9 cassettes, 15 hrs.)

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Straight Man by Richard Russo, Sam Freed

August 1997

The first novel since his bestselling Nobody's Fool, Richard Russo's Straight Man is another wry comedy of an ordinary man struggling with life's ironies. Hank Devereaux Jr., chairman of the English department at West Central Pennsylvania University, is having a particularly rough week: He has had his nose slashed by a feminist poet, has discovered that his secretary writes better fiction than he does, suspects his wife is having an affair, and finds himself threatening the life of a bird.

Considering the current circumstances of Hank's life, it's no surprise that he snaps. As interim chairman of the English department, Hank threatens to kill one of the ubiquitous campus ducks unless the administration releases his budget ("I want the money on my desk in unmarked bills by Monday morning, or this guy will be soaking in orange sauce and full of corn-bread stuffing by Monday night"), and he becomes an oddball quasi-celebrity and the primary target of his contentious English department colleagues. It's obvious that, as Hank likes to quip, "in an English department, the serious competition is for the role of straight man."

So what is the lesson that Hank Devereaux Jr. learns after ending up jobless, dogless (twice), and laid up in a hospital bed? What is the answer to the question that keeps everyone in suspense: What is Hank going to do? "Only after we've done a thing do we know what we'll do...who we'll sleep with if given an opportunity, who we'll betray in the right circumstance, whose faith and love we will reward with our own.... 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. We need them to tell us."

This college community of Russo's creation is one of personal attacks, lust, and comical incompetence -- a marvelous demonstration of his mastery of humorous, seamless prose. Russo is currently writing the screenplay for Straight Man, which has been optioned by Dreamworks SKG.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780739306918
Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/05/2003
Edition description: Unabridged, 9 cassettes, 15 hrs.
Product dimensions: 4.11(w) x 5.69(h) x 2.65(d)

About the Author

Richard Russo is the author of Mohawk, The Risk Pool, and Nobody's Fool, which was made into a a film directed by Robert Benton and starring Paul Newman.  He lives in Maine with his wife and two daughters.

From the Hardcover edition.


Gloversville, New York

Date of Birth:

July 15, 1949

Place of Birth:

Johnstown, New York


B.A., University of Arizona, 1967; Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1979; M.F.A., University of Arizona, 1980

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Straight Man 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 55 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With all due respect to the Pulitzer people, I think this is better even than Empire Falls -- and I loved EF immensely. Straight Man is hysterical, warm, gripping and intelligent from the first page to the last. The constant wit and sarcastic edge make "Hank" Russo's best lead character ever. Anyone who has ever taught, or has aspirations to write a book, will not be able to put this book down until they are done with it. This book hasn't gotten the hype of others, but I would call it my best read of the year, by far.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You don't have to be in academia to appreciate this sly take on life at a mediocre liberal arts college. The unexpected twists and turns and the outrageous and crisp dialogue make this book so funny I was literally laughing out loud while reading it, whether alone on my couch or on a crowded bus. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of my all time favorite books. It is dry, witty, and extremely well-written. I found myself laughing uncontrollably at its artful humor. You cannot help but love each character - as is the case in most of Russo's books.
AshleyReader More than 1 year ago
Russo's "Straight Man" is clearly written by a man who can write. The reading itself was a pleasure. The story was amusing, if at times slow, and was a wonderful combination of funny and serious. There was nothing silly, over the top, or shocking about the humor in Russo's work. The main character is endearing and honest and the supporting characters are equally entertaining - and for the most served only in appropriately sized portions; the most over-the-top characters make brief appearances, so it's nice to see them again later, rather than repetitive or irritating. A great read for anyone who has had zany professors (as many of them are), enjoys reading, and can handle a long read - the length is my only criticism, but I only felt that the book was too long for about 5 chapters in the middle. Once the story picked up again, I was glad to have more to read ahead.
JohnW745 More than 1 year ago
This book is hands down one the best reads of my post-high school career. It is my opinon that Richard Russo is a quick-witted, sarcastic, and dry author, wich makes makes for a great book that is exceptionally hilarious. After a while i found myself rooting for the antagonist in story becasue i couldn't help but to fall in love with ALL characters. Its seems that Russo used some personal expeirence in his writing wich helped me connect to the characters to better understand their point of view. In other words, this book was real, as in the personalities put into the characters & structure of this story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was better than Empire Falls. I found myself laughing out loud several times, and I couldn't put it down. I was sorry to have it end!
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
"What ails people is never simple, and William of Occam, who provided mankind with a beacon of rationality by which to view the world of physical circumstance, knew better than to apply his razor to the irrational, where entities multiply like strands of a virus under a microscope" Straight Man is the fourth novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, Richard Russo. William Henry Devereaux Jnr, (Hank) at almost fifty, is interim chairman of the English department at the (chronically underfunded) West Central Pennsylvania University in Railton. A certain week in April sees him enduring quite a variety of trials, both mental and physical. It all starts in a meeting where he is nasally mangled by a colleague. Or does it? Perhaps his absent father has had more influence that he admits. Russo subjects his protagonist to bouts of overactive imagination, the suspicions and petty politics of colleagues, his students' decided lack of promise, his daughter's marital problems, a tempting flirtation with a younger woman, and an irritating (and possibly worrying) deterioration in the function of a certain organ. Ducks, geese, a TV news crew, the local jail, a hot tub, peaches and their pits, a dog called Occam and a missing ceiling tile complete the picture. Hank holds his colleagues in disdain ("You know the kind of company I keep. If it weren't for erroneous conclusions, these people would never arrive at any at all"), is critical of his friends ("He misses all the details than even an out-of-practice storyteller like me would not only mention but place in the foreground. He's like a tone-deaf man trying to sing, sliding between notes, tapping his foot arhythmically, hoping his exuberance will make up for not bothering to establish a key"), and loves the wife who knows him entirely too well ("Promise me you'll act surprised" is one of Lily's favourite, supposedly harmless pretences.........."It hurts my feelings to pretend to be this dumb," I tell my wife. "Don't you care what people think of me?" But she just smiles. "They won't notice," she always explains. "It'll blend in with all the times you're genuinely slow.") He knows his own weaknesses ("I try to tell myself it's nothing but decent affection I feel for her, but the truth is, it doesn't feel entirely decent. She's too lovely a woman for this to be decent affection, though it's probably not exactly indecent either. Is there a state more or less halfway between decency and indecency? Is there a name for such a realm? The Kingdom of Cowardice? The Fiefdom of Altruism? The Grove of Academe?") and is well aware of his flaws ("I use my own solitude to consider what may well be my worst character flaw, the fact that in the face of life's seriousness, its pettiness, its tragedy, its lack of coherent meaning, my spirits are far too easily restored") This is a book filled with humour, some of it quite dark, and much of it very dry; it will have readers grinning, chuckling and laughing out loud, so is perhaps not a book to read in public. Russo gives Hank some succinct and insightful observations: "What I suspect is that this brandy is intended to brace me for unpleasantness, and that any brandy used for this purpose may be imbued with medicinal bitterness if you suspect the truth". He also allows Hank to display his literary talent in the form of descriptive prose: "Properly medicated, Yolanda felt becalmed on a flat lake where others nearby were sailing about merrily, wind snapping
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoyed this and couldn't put it down. Very funny, well written, intriguing story and wonderfully formed characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books ever. I laughed so much! It manages to be ironic, over-the-top, and true to life (amazing accomplishment). Russo is one of my favorite writers and this book is one of his best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great humor and well written.
Maertel More than 1 year ago
... what is the point of bookending the story with dog killings, the final one really gratuitous? None of the main characters feel the losses deeply, nor do any of them have any kind of compassionate reaction to the hanging of a beautiful bird in the middle of a college campus. And, yes, it would have been good to have fewer silly pee incidents and a lot more character revelations, notably for dear old Dad, Gracie, and Lily.
adabelle22 More than 1 year ago
With hard economic times on hitting higher education, this book was almost too real to be true. Each character could be on any given campus across the nation. The personal and professional story line for the main character was so likeable and believeable. Great book for any liberal arts department personnel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ALl I can say is this is one of the funniest books I've EVER read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books! I work in academia - this had me laughing in acknowledgement and recognition. Well done!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i have a good sense of humor, i like it all, raunchy stuff stupid stuff and this book has it all
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book had me laughing out loud...with its combination of characters and Hank's thoughts and fantasies. A book about relationships in our jobs and families well worth the read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The writing is so crisp and believable I recognized all the characters. I laughed out loud a number of times reading this on a 12 hour plane ride. I am not a professor and am not a literature student, but the book author brought me into that world. Alternating between introspective and simply hilarious it was a great story. I am reading Empire Falls starting today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Funny,great characters,observant and just fun to read.....if you ever been to college or a life in academia an interesting look into life at a university.
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big-reader43 More than 1 year ago
This book was typical Richard Russo and I love his books. Quirky, amusing and thought provoking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic read. Sharp, funny, clever, and warm. Loved it from cover to cover.