Straight Man

By Richard Russo,

Book cover of Straight Man

Book description

Hilarious and true-to-life, witty, compassionate, and impossible to put down, Straight Man follows Hank Devereaux through one very bad week in this novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls. Soon to Be an Original Series on AMC Starring Bob Odenkirk.

William Henry Devereaux, Jr., is the reluctant chairman…

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Why read it?

3 authors picked Straight Man as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. It’s about a neurotic, hypochondriacal, middle-aged college professor in a small town who does one absurd thing after another as he attempts to sort his life out. 

His wife, daughter, and father are all as much of a wreck as he is, as are his lunatic colleagues in the English department. Being a middle-aged, neurotic, and hypochondriacal man myself—and having grown up in a small, claustrophobic college town with maladjusted academic types much like these—this novel had me crying with laughter. (There’s an over-the-top scene with a goose and a…

There is a whole different list for me to make with my favorite campus novels and this would certainly be on top of that list. Russo is very good at the absurdity of campus politics, but I think he is a wonder at using humor and self-deprecation to explore sadness. Sadness feels so much sadder with a heavy dose of funny. And this book is very funny.   

I prefer a combination of poignancy and humor over the silly farces that are typical of many campus novels. While there is, indeed, plenty of dysfunction at the university depicted in this amazing novel, there is rich poignancy and hysterical, even farcical humor in the way the protagonist deals with his frustrations (he’s unable to get a departmental budget commitment from upper administration, and his stunts are downright funny), plus intense emotional engagement as these frustrations spill over into his home life. Exactly the kind of novel I enjoy. So many things ring true.

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