You know you've enjoyed a book when you wake up the day after you've finished it and feel a little bereft that you don't have any more of it to read. This is what happened to me with Richard Russo's novel Nobody's Fool.
I really, really, really enjoyed it. It was 549 pages long, so you'd better believe I loved it or I wouldn't have made it through all of that. It's a novel where not much happens, except sixty-year-old Donald Sullivan ("Sully") who wanders through his small-town life in North Bath, NY, limping on a bad knee he doesn't have the money to fix and doing his best to maintain relationships with his downstairs neighbor and landlady, his friends, his ex-wife and his son, all without, you know, having actual "relationships" with any of them (largely because he spends most of his time trying to forget his relationship with his dad, Big Jim Sullivan, a card-carrying small-town blowhard asshole, who died years before).
I know, I know, it's all sounding a little Oprah. It's not. The hardest type of character development of all to pull off is present here: no one really changes, but at the end of the book, everyone's a bit different. That takes skill. Anne Tyler can do it too but it's hard to find in modern novels. Parts of it are funny, and during most of it, Sully's so real that you actually wish you could go find him and tell him to stop being such a moron.
Also? Richard Russo must know some old ladies, because he's got them down:
"Mrs. Gruber phoned midmorning, wondering if Miss Beryl's mail had been delivered and if she'd looked over the circular that announced the grand opening of the new supermarket out by the interstate exit...She had pored over the circular with mounting excitement and regret, the latter caused by the fact that she did not drive and that the supermarket was five miles away. The circular had been six full pages, and each page was in full color, picturing deep red cuts of beef, Kelly green vegetables. Even the most mundane items, like toilet paper and laundry detergent, looked exotic and thrilling. And all at incredible savings. Mrs. Gruber wanted to go to the supermarket and find out for herself if the circular truly represented the wonders of the new store." (p. 51.)
Okay, that's really got nothing to do with the story. But if you know any old ladies, or if you've ever watched any wandering around Shopko or Walgreen's clutching their ad circulars, you know that it's PERFECT.
Make no mistake: it's not cozy. People are assholes, Sully included, and there's plenty of adultery, swearing, and even a bit of violence to go around. But it is gentle. That's hard to do too. I'm seriously thinking of going on a Richard Russo bender.
Oh, and one more thing. Here's a bonus quote: "'I must be losing patience with my fellow humans,' Miss Beryl went on. 'Anymore I'm all for executing people who are mean to children. I used to favor just cutting off their feet. Now I want to rid the world of them completely. If this keeps up I'll be voting Republican soon.'" (p. 94.)
Oh, yeah. I've got to get me some more Russo.