Somebody's Fool

Somebody's Fool

by Richard Russo
Somebody's Fool

Somebody's Fool

by Richard Russo


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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Empire Falls returns to North Bath, in upstate New York, and to the characters that captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of readers in his beloved best sellers Nobody’s Fool and Everybody’s Fool.

“Sumptuous, spirited . . . [Russo] paints a shining fresco of a working-class community...” —The New York Times • "Another instant classic, filled with Russo's witty dialogue and warm understanding of human foibles." —People Magazine

Ten years after the death of the magnetic Donald “Sully” Sullivan, the town of North Bath is going through a major transition as it is annexed by its much wealthier neighbor, Schuyler Springs. Peter, Sully’s son, is still grappling with his father’s tremendous legacy as well as his relationship to his own son, Thomas, wondering if he has been all that different a father than Sully was to him.

Meanwhile, the towns’ newly consolidated police department falls into the hands of Charice Bond, after the resignation of Doug Raymer, the former North Bath police chief and Charice’s ex-lover. When a decomposing body turns up in the abandoned hotel situated between the two towns, Charice and Raymer are drawn together again and forced to address their complicated attraction to one another. Across town, Ruth, Sully’s married ex-lover, and her daughter Janey struggle to understand Janey’s daughter, Tina, and her growing obsession with Peter’s other son, Will. Amidst the turmoil, the town’s residents speculate on the identity of the unidentified body, and wonder who among their number could have disappeared unnoticed.

Infused with all the wry humor and shrewd observations that Russo is known for, Somebody's Fool is another classic from a modern master.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593317891
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/25/2023
Series: North Bath Trilogy , #3
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 33,464
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

About The Author
RICHARD RUSSO is the author of nine novels, most recently Chances Are..., Everybody’s Fool and That Old Cape Magic; two collections of stories; and the memoir Elsewhere. In 2002 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, which, like Nobody’s Fool, won multiple awards for its screen adaptation, and in 2023 his novel Straight Man was adapted into the television series Lucky Hank. In 2017, he received France’s Grand Prix de Littérature Américaine. He lives in Port­land, Maine.


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

Read an Excerpt


The changes would be gradual, or that was how the idea had been sold all along. But no sooner did North Bath’s annexation to Schuyler Springs become official than rumors began circulating about “next steps.” North Bath High, the Beryl Peoples Middle School, and one of the town’s two elementary schools would close at the end of the school year, just a few months away. In the fall their students would be bused to schools in Schuyler. Okay, none of this was unexpected. The whole point of consolidation was to eliminate redundancies, so education, the most expensive of these, would naturally be at the top of that list. Still, those pushing for annexation had argued that such changes would be incremental, the result of natural attrition.

Teachers wouldn’t be fired, merely encouraged, by means of incentives, to retire. Younger staff would apply for positions in the Schuyler unified school district, which would make every effort to accommodate them. The school buildings themselves would be converted into county offices. Same deal with the police. The low-­slung brick building that housed the police department and the jail would be repurposed, and Doug Raymer, who’d been making noises about retiring as chief of police for years, could probably get repurposed as well. His half-­dozen or so officers could apply for positions within the Schuyler PD. Hell, they’d probably even keep their old uniforms; the left sleeve would just bear a different patch. Sure, other redundancies would follow. There’d be no further need for a town council (there being no town) or for a mayor (which in Bath wasn’t even a full-­time position). The town already purchased its water from Schuyler Springs, whose sanitation department would now collect its trash, which everybody agreed was a significant upgrade. At present Bath citizens were responsible for hauling their crap to the dump, or hiring the Squeers Brothers and letting their fleet of decrepit dump trucks do it for them.

Naturally, not everyone had been in favor of this quantum shift. Some maintained there was really only one genuine redundancy that annexation would eliminate, and that was North Bath itself. By allowing itself to be subsumed by Schuyler Springs, its age-­old rival, the town was basically committing suicide, voting for nonexistence over existence, and who in their right mind did that? This melodramatic argument was met with considerable derision. Was it even possible for an intubated patient on a ventilator to commit suicide? For the last decade about the only thing Bath had any control over was its morphine drip, because its debt had become so crushing that the town budget allowed for little beyond its interest payment.

How had all this come to pass? Well, the recession the whole damn country was still in the middle of was partly to blame, but many argued that the town had been circling the drain long before that. Most people blamed Gus Moynihan and the damned Democrats, who, when they took power, just spent and spent and spent. Before that, Bath had been a model of fiscal restraint, its unofficial motto being: No spending. Ever. On anything. For any purpose. If there was a pothole in the middle of the street, drive around the fucking thing. It wasn’t like potholes were invisible. The wider and deeper they grew, the easier they were to spot. Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that the streets weren’t paved at all. No, the fiscal crisis was due to a curious combination of hubris and self-­loathing, the anti-­annexers maintained, the inevitable result of Bath’s attempts to emulate its rich neighbor. The Democrats, being Democrats, figured that if the town spent money like Schuyler Springs did, maybe it could have everything Schuyler had. You had to spend money to make money, right? Okay, sure, Republicans countered, but what the Democrats were conveniently ignoring was that Schuyler Springs, a lucky town if there ever was one, had money to burn. The city was flush. It was full of fancy restaurants and coffee shops and museums and art galleries. It had a thoroughbred racetrack, a performing arts center and writers’ colony and snooty liberal arts college, all of which generated a veritable shitstorm of revenue. How was Bath supposed to compete with all that? Moreover, why would they even want to? After all, there were other ways of measuring wealth, other sources of civic pride. Schuyler might be lucky—its mineral springs still percolating up out of the ground more than a century after Bath’s ran dry—but the historic drivers of its economy were gambling and horseracing and prostitution (a claim advanced by North Bath fundamentalist churches, though the only whorehouse of historical note had actually been located on their own outskirts), all of which explained why Schuyler was full of rich assholes and latte-­drinking homosexuals and one-­God-­at-­most Unitarian churches, a town where morally upright, God-­fearing, hardworking people couldn’t afford to live. That it hadn’t gotten its comeuppance yet didn’t mean there wasn’t one coming. If potholes and second-­rate schools kept taxes low and degenerates, atheists and Starbucks out, then let’s hear it for potholes.

That was the other thing: taxes. If Bath was subsumed by Schuyler, how much longer would they remain low? Those in favor of annexation conceded that, yes, eventually, if Schuyler Springs assumed North Bath’s debt, at some point all town property would have to be reassessed. Taxes might conceivably go up. Language like eventually and at some point and might conceivably had the intended effect of rendering these outcomes as remote and possible, as opposed to immediate and inevitable. Now, though, word on the street was that this reassessment of both residential and commercial properties would commence next week. Just that quickly eventually had become a synonym for tomorrow. So, yes, North Bath teachers and cops and other public servants could apply for their old jobs in Schuyler schools and the Schuyler PD, but if their property taxes doubled, how many of them could afford to keep living there? Sure, residents with the nicest houses in the better neighborhoods would make a killing and move away, but what about everybody else? Wouldn’t they just end up in some other town like Bath that couldn’t afford services like trash removal, except with a longer commute?

Birdie, who was the principal owner of Bath’s venerable roadhouse, the White Horse Tavern, had followed the civic debate with interest, despite not really having a dog in the fight. The way she saw it, she was pretty much screwed either way. If the tavern was reassessed and her taxes doubled, then she’d probably lose not just the business but her home, since she lived in the apartment upstairs. Theoretically the property would be worth more, but that would also make it even harder to sell. While the tavern wasn’t technically on the market, it was common knowledge that Birdie had been looking for an off-­ramp a while now. She’d recently turned sixty-­three, and most mornings, including this one, she woke up feeling like she’d been rode hard and put up wet. She couldn’t afford to retire, but how many more years of hard labor did she have in her? A decade ago the bar had kept her afloat during the winter, but not anymore. Summers were still busy, of course. She opened the main dining room around Memorial Day, hired seasonal waitstaff and cooks who pushed steaks and prime rib out of the crowded kitchen and into the expansive dining room, but all of that went away after Labor Day. She kept the kitchen open as a service, but mostly for burgers and pizza. The whole place needed a good sprucing up, and not just a fresh coat of paint, either. Every stick of furniture in the joint needed replacing, and she’d been putting off purchasing new point-­of-­sales equipment for years. She wanted to update her software, too, something her ancient computer wouldn’t support. Face it. The Horse was, like the town itself, on a respirator. Maybe it was time to pull the plug. Put a merciful end to her misery.

Before the recession she’d been hoping for—praying for, really—somebody from away to wander into the tavern and be both charmed by its historic vibe and blind to its present decrepitude. Someone capable of closing their eyes and seeing in the resulting darkness a bright future. A romantic fool, in other words. Unfortunately, people like that were more likely to invest in bookstores and B and Bs than roadhouse taverns.

Still, you never knew, which was why Birdie was paying particular attention to another rumor that was currently making the rounds: the one about the Sans Souci—the old hotel that sat in the middle of a large, wooded estate situated between Bath and Schuyler Springs. Of course the place had always been a rumor mill. Every few years there’d be talk that some downstate investor was interested, that the old hotel would be renovated yet again, a celebrity chef brought up from Manhattan to run its high-­end restaurant, the extensive grounds converted into a golf course or maybe a music venue to rival Schuyler’s performing arts center. Others believed that the state of New York would eventually step in, purchase the land and make a public park out of it. This new scuttlebutt was strikingly different: somebody already had bought the Sans Souci, and not some downstater, but a West Coast billionaire and movie studio owner who meant to tear the hotel down and build a soundstage in its place. That was last week’s scenario. This week’s purchaser was a Silicon Valley tech firm looking for an East Coast presence by replacing the Sans Souci with an entire campus built from the ground up, which would mean hundreds, if not thousands, of employees. Overnight the whole area would be flooded with new people, all of them looking not just for housing but for places to eat and drink. Could it be that for once in her life Birdie was actually in the right place at the right time? She never had been before, but where was it written that her luck couldn’t change? Her old friend Sully had been as unlucky as anybody she knew until one day his luck turned with a vengeance. Why not her?

Birdie was contemplating this rosy possibility when she heard Peter Sullivan, Sully’s son and one of her two minority business partners, letting himself in via the tavern’s delivery entrance, as he did every Saturday morning without fail. Peter seemed to believe he was a very different breed of cat than his father, which always made Birdie smile, though in some respects she supposed it might be true. College educated, he was white collar where Sully had been faded blue, and Peter was both well dressed and articulate. In other respects, however, he was his old man all over again. If you ever needed to know where Sully was, all you had to do was glance at your watch.

At seven he’d be at Hattie’s for his morning coffee. Eight-­thirty would find him at Tip Top Construction, where Carl Roebuck, its owner, would let him know what disgusting job he’d lined up for him that day, one even Sully couldn’t fuck up. Over the noon hour he’d drop by the OTB, where he’d bet his 1-­2-­3 exacta and shoot the shit with the other regulars there. Six o’clock or thereabouts would find him back home, in the shower, scrubbing off the day’s grime (though he’d sometimes skip going home if the job ran long). By seven he’d be on his favorite barstool here at the Horse, where there was always cold beer and The People’s Court or a ball game on the wall-­mounted TV, not to mention the regular bar crowd—Wirf, Jocko, Carl and the others, all gone now, dead or moved away or drinking elsewhere—whose balls he enjoyed breaking. And there he’d stay, until midnight on weekdays, or last call on weekends, after which, if a poker game broke out in the back room, so much the better. He’d kept to that schedule pretty much right up to the end, even when the knee he’d injured years before got so stiff and painful that the few people who didn’t know him assumed he had a prosthesis.

Peter seemed to believe that because he drank coffee at the Horse on Saturday mornings instead of beer there every night of the week and because he read the New York Times instead of watching The People’s Court, he’d won some sort of victory over genetics. Birdie had her doubts. With each passing day he looked more like his old man, and while she wasn’t privy to the details of his day, she knew its broad strokes—teaching at the community college during the week, on Saturdays slow-­walking the ongoing renovations to the house on Upper Main Street that his father had left him, playing racquetball (whatever that was) or tennis at a fitness club in Schuyler on Sundays. Evenings? Every now and then he’d stop by the Horse for a martini (Birdie stocked his favorite high-­end vodka), but he usually drank at that hipster bar in Schuyler, the kind of place where a glass of wine went for twelve bucks and you weren’t supposed to mind the short pour. Peter’s routines, in other words, were every bit as ingrained and regimented as Sully’s had been, which was why Birdie foresaw that the DNA contest Peter imagined he was winning would end in ignominious defeat.

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