Fast Times at a Pennsylvania College: A Review of Richard Russo’s Comedic Novel, Straight Man

Straight ManStraight Man by Richard Russo

Fast Times at a Pennsylvania College

Hank Devereaux, interim English department chair at a small, poorly funded Pennsylvania college, suffers from a case of “arrested adult development.” He has destructive prankster tendencies, misgivings about his career, and is troubled by his relationship with his father, a well-known professor of trendy literary criticism. He has fears of kidney stones and prostate cancer, fantasizes about his wife with his best friends, and is half in love with three women—his secretary, the daughter of a colleague, and a lesbian professor.

The novel contains laugh-aloud scenes involving threats to geese, adult incontinence, and snappy locker room dialogue between faculty members. It’s also quite sad, if slightly less dark than his previous novels, including Nobody’s Fool and The Risk Pool. In all his works, Russo plays homage to his main literary influence, Charles Dickens, with his finely drawn minor characters and human story. Straight Man is the perfect middle-age, coming of age story.

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