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Straight Man

A Novel
Narrated by: Sam Freed
Length: 14 hrs and 12 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (40 ratings)

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Summary

In this uproarious novel, Richard Russo performs his characteristic high-wire walk between hilarity and heartbreak. Russo's protagonist is William Henry Devereaux, Jr., the reluctant chairman of the English department of a badly underfunded college in the Pennsylvania rust belt. Devereaux's reluctance is partly rooted in his character he is a born anarchist and partly in the fact that his department is more savagely divided than the Balkans.

In the course of a single week, Devereaux will have his nose mangled by an angry colleague, imagine his wife is having an affair with his dean, wonder if a curvaceous adjunct is trying to seduce him with peach pits, and threaten to execute a goose on local television. All this while coming to terms with his philandering father, the dereliction of his youthful promise, and the ominous failure of certain vital body functions. In short, Straight Man is classic Russo side-splitting and true-to-life, witty, compassionate, and impossible to put down.

©1997 Richard Russo (P)2003 Random House, Inc.

Critic reviews

"There is a big, wry heart beating at the center of Russo's fiction." ( The New Yorker)
"[Russo] skewers academic pretensions and infighting with mad abandon...in a clear and muscular prose that is a pleasure to read...I had to stop often to guffaw, gasp, wheeze and wipe away my tears." ( Chicago Sun-Times)
"Russo can penetrate to the tender quick of ordinary, American lives." ( Entertainment Weekly)

What members say

Average customer ratings

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Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Masterful

Russo has a control over his craft which must the envy of other writers. He creates characters so real in settings so believable that you instantly forget this is fiction and assume you are reading about people you know. This is one of his funnier books but the deceptive simplicity, the easy pace and the genuine characters you expect from one of his books are all there.
I love the unhurried way he allows this story to unfold, the subtle building of tension and the fact that I care about all of the people in the narrative.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Full of subtle wit and insight

What made the experience of listening to Straight Man the most enjoyable?

A delightful listen from beginning to end, packed with subtle and wry observations on all the characters. Although the story is essentially silly and focuses largely on the characters foibles and weakness, it does so with wisdom and kindness.

Have you listened to any of Sam Freed’s other performances? How does this one compare?

The narrator of Richard Russo's Risk Pool was much better. Sam Freed is a competent reader and captures the subtle wit but isn't one of my favourite voices and there were many occasions when I was confused whether a sentence was dialogue or reflection.

Any additional comments?

I was so pleased with Risk Pool I went straight on to this by the same author. My enthusiasm is still high so I will try a third.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Good story let down by a poor narration.

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

This was an enjoyable story which was time well spent, marred by the fact that Sam Freed's narration is devoid of nuance.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Straight Man?

The episode where Hank first threatens to kill a duck a day was a highlight of the plot.

What didn’t you like about Sam Freed’s performance?

When there is a lot of dialogue it sometimes becomes confusing, because he makes little effort to change tone for each character. Otherwise, he is quite good in his delivery.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Loved it

I have long been a fan of Richard Russo and particularly have enjoyed listening to his books as talking books, as the readers bring the characters to life so well.



This book kept me involved from start to finish. I loved the different characters and their (often surprising) interactions. Sometimes I felt the 'hero' went too far but he always then did something that redeemed him - in my view.



At the end, I felt I had lost some good friends and I look forward to listening to another book by the same author, also to listening to this again after a few months.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Jeffrey A. Sherman
  • 09-01-04

Shockingly good

I bought this book after seeing it in a Staff Recommendations rack. It is the funniest non Comedy book I have ever read. I have bought copies for several friends and have read several Russo books since. He is terrific.

16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Holly Abery-Wetstone
  • Holly Abery-Wetstone
  • 17-10-03

Straight Man

This is the funniest book I have listened to since John Grisham's Skipping Christmas. It is a hilarious account of the trouble a middle aged college professor can find while his wife is away for several days. Russo's writing combines humor with the trials and tribulations of growing old or should I say growing up? A must listen!

22 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Thomas
  • 02-06-05

one of my favorite books

This was one of the most entertaining and engaging books I have come across in some time. The central character is an interesa fascinating,irritating, yet lovably hilarious excuse for a grown-up. He was a wonderful mixture of insightfulness and cluelessness. There are some terrific moments along the way that had me falling out of my chair with laughter-- then I'd climb back in to my chair to "re-read" the passage again and enjoy it once more. My wife was so intrigued by how I gleefully devoured this book that she had to read it herself. She loved it too! And so have each of my friends who I have convinced to read it.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • JOHN
  • 25-11-07

Russo Rocks!

So I gave it only 4 stars. This isn't because Straight Man isn't wonderful. Perhaps when I compare it to the richness of Empire Falls and Nobody's Fool, it just doesn't quite fill those shoes. But don't let this stop you.

In some ways I enjoyed this book more than the other Russo books I have had the pleasure to listen to. This book was funnier. And I could not help but wonder how much of the protagonist, Hank Devereaux, was really Richard Russo himself as an irreverant wise-cracking head of a college English department.

Devereaux's own mother criticized her son telling him "you've become a clever man." To understand how this is considered a fault, you really have to listen to this book.

One hundred percent enjoyable!

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Richard Delman
  • Richard Delman
  • 24-08-18

Our best living American novelist.

Someone of great wisdom and as well a judge and consumer of terrific writing said that. I am wholly with him. 100%. I love Richard Russo, and have felt that way for a very long time. He writes in a way that most authors could only dream of doing. Russo's sense of humor is so wicked, and at the same time so loving and gentle, that you find yourself giggling and chuckling almost continuously. Really good humor is a rare thing indeed. Russo makes fun of himself, of his characters, some of whom are stand-ins for himself, and also of others who populate his novels. His sense of humor extends to life itself. I could describe some of the scenes that he creates, but it would not be nearly as funny in the reading. In this book, as in a few others, Russo takes aim at academia, and hits bullseye after bullseye. He spent a bit of time in this milieu, and so he knows whereof he speaks. A friend of mine once said that in capitalism, the prize is money. In politics, the prize is power. But in academia, who on earth knows what the prize is? Truer words...
Hank "Lucky Hank" Devereaux is the main character here. He and his father have the same name. Hank's glorious wife is Lily, whom he loves unreasonably. The couple have three daughters. Hank is the acting chair of the English Department at something like Western Pennsylvania State College in Railton, PA. I know that that is not quite accurate, but I will leave it up to you to correct me. I think that Railton is nearer Philly than Pittsburgh. The English department contains a small zoo of likely suspects: ineffectual schmucks, vicious predators, social climbers, failed poets, one-book novelists (one of whom Hank is) and so forth. The group spends hours upon hours tossing around many subjects without ever coming to a single conclusion. There are meaningless rebellions. Not much back-stabbing, as most are truly fond of each other. There is one hater, a guy named Roark, but he turns out to have no claws, like a spayed and domesticated cat. You absolutely must not miss the scene in which Hank, who has thoroughly peed his pants, is trapped up in the rafters above a room in which his colleagues are debating, among others things, his ouster. They say, "why does this room smell like urine?" They take a vote, and Hank blithely drops a voting slip down through the ceiling and onto the table. We never know whether Hank votes for or against his own ouster.
The predator in the department is a sad fifty-ish man who seduces female students and media reporters in his hot tub. With California wine, weed and other stuff. There are shaky marriages, good ones, divorces, reconciliations. Through all of this, Russo clearly loves his creations and never stabs them heartlessly. I had never heard of this narrator, Sam Freed, but I really admired his delivery of such fantastic material, which could easily fall flat in less skilled hands. Or, voices. Lungs, throats. Like that.
You cannot not like Mr. Russo. I won't hear of it.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Janice
  • 05-02-15

Goosed

Maybe if I didn't have such high expectations for Russo’s writing ability I would have enjoyed Straight Man better. And to be fair, the writing IS good – it’s the story that disappointed. Underachieving academics trying to survive their own mediocrity in an atmosphere of budget cuts and departmental backstabbing had potential and started out well, but the whining and self-pity got old and I just wanted to tell everyone to grow up. The choice of first person viewpoint didn't help, as supporting characters can only be known through the protagonist’s perceptions, leaving them somewhat flat. It seemed that Russo tried to fluff them up a bit through silly quirks, but it didn't work well for me. I much preferred the subtle ironic humor of “Nobody’s Fool” to the forced silliness of “Straight Man”. At one point Devereaux’s mother chided him for his literary laziness saying he had “become a clever man”. That line summarized my feelings about Russo’s effort here.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Ramjac
  • 16-11-03

Laughing out loud...

If you don't read this book, I'll kill one duck a day (goose) until there are no more ducks (geese).:) Really funny. I loved it and will listen to it again.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Dan
  • 15-04-05

Great fun--give this a try!

Hilarious satire combined with warm sympathetic characters. The satire is funny but never cruel--difficult balance to maintain but Russo pulls it off. Delicious send-up of pompous college administrators and members of the college English department. Even when Russo is at his satiric best, almost all of the characters, though flawed, are presented as sympathetic complex human beings. I laughed alot--sometimes so hard that I had to stop listening. All in all, a wonderfully entertaining, intelligent and humane book--highly recommend.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Emmamom
  • 07-04-16

I listened to the great reviews to my great regret

Any additional comments?

Looking for a smart, funny, witty book I chose this based on the great reviews. I loved Confederacy of Dunces and thought Straight Man might make me laugh too. Boy was I wrong. I trudged 3/4 through and gave up. I couldn't bring myself to care about or like a single character, and the chauvanistic tropes felt tired and dated, and more often than not, creepy. Middle aged professors flirting with and sometimes sleeping with students. The professor who came out of the closet, attended sexual orientation counseling at the behest of his wife, and returns to the closet - his flamboyant white suit and fake PHD the basis of what makes this offensive take on homosexuality "funny." The socially outcast writing student, angry with all the pretty women who consistently reject and emasculate him writes long and prurient stories featuring graphic and endless rape scenes and even necrophilia. What a hoot! The goose on the cover and reviews talking about the main characters's threat to "kill a duck a day" unless his department gets funded made me think of funny scenes with Sonia the elephant in The 100 Yr Old Man Who Climbed Through the Window. Here, however, Hank chokes the goose, holding it aloft by the neck and makes his speech while the goose "with bulging eyes" flaps his wings and squawks frantically. I guess the fact that Hank is wearing Groucho Marx glasses and fake nose is what makes this scene funny, but this was about the time I found myself wishing I could get my time refunded, if not my money.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Claudine
  • 22-09-17

Couldnt Finish It

I tried to give this book a chance but it went nowhere for too long. The story seemed to have no point or purpose and the manner which is was constructed was just not enjoyable for me. Maybe it gets better later on in the book but I think after 3 and a half hours of listening - you should be able to get a book moving.

5 people found this helpful