Compared to "Empire Falls," "Straight Man" delivers Richard Russo at his funniest and comparatively light on the heartbreak - although there is something extremely wrenching about a man in his early fifties who can't pee - especially for the late-middle age guy reader. Ouch and please, Lord, not me.
William Henry Devereaux Jr., is the interim chair of the English department at a small Pennsylvania college. He's losing his grip on his marriage, the department, his health, he thinks, and life in general. He's got angst, got ennui and he's got a fractious department to deal with.
In an unhinged moment he takes things out on a goose, he's named Finny in honor of one of the members of his department. In front of a TV news crew that has shown up to cover a groundbreaking, Henry grabs the wildly flapping and squawking goose by the neck and threatens to kill a fowl a day until the school administration approves his budget request.
We're only a day or two into Henry's week. His nose has already been pretty much mangled by a colleague, he's been tormented by thoughts that his wife is banging his dean, he's wondering if a ripe adjunct professor is trying to seduce him by leaving peach pits on his desk blotter and he's had to deal with his indomitable mother who says he lacks "high seriousness' and then accuses him of being a lightweight. "But the truth is that there's nothing more shallow than cleverness. You've become a clever man," she says.
And clever this book is. Glib it is not. It is also hilarious and once in awhile even poignant. It should be your next read.