Richard Russo & Jenny Boylan on Plot Twists in Books – and Life

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Richard Russo and Jenny Boylan
'Everybody's Fool' by Richard Russo

Richard Russo was in his early forties when he published "Nobody's Fool" in 1993. The novel focused on the residents of a fictional mill town in upstate New York called Bath, including Sully, who Paul Newman played in the movie version of the book, and his slow-on-the-uptake friend, Rub. Today Russo is in his mid-60s, and after all these years he’s brought Sully and Rub back to life in a sequel to "Nobody's Fool" called "Everybody's Fool."

Russo’s been friends with writer and novelist Jenny Boylan since they shared an office as professors in the early 1990s. But at the time, Jenny Boylan was Jim Boylan. She made the transition to Jenny about 15 years ago, and she wrote about it in her acclaimed memoir, "She's Not There." We asked Boylan to come in to interview Russo about his new novel and to talk with him about big plot twists — in their books, and in their friendship.

Jenny Boylan: The relationship between Sully and Rub, it’s really as deep as anything in a married relationship. Did you find it hard to write about that kind of relationship? The relationship between friends, maybe particularly between men, I think is hard to write about.

Richard Russo: It was a difficult relationship because on face value it seems to be one-sided because Rub really needs Sully for everything. But there is something going on there between them. Rub is a kind of foil, and maybe Sully needs Rub the way Don Quixote needs Sancho.

That’s funny, I was going to say the way Dean Martin needs Jerry Lewis.

Yes, both! And also I think part of Sully’s mechanism, the way he goes about life, is to ignore all obligations that are enforceable. So he leaves his family but what does he do? He goes and finds Rub, who becomes his surrogate son.

Do you think that readers believe in some sort of fictional Richard Russo based on the voice of the man who’s telling them this story? I’m asking you this because even though I write mostly non-fiction these days, people assume that we’re going to be friends. I’m frequently running into people here on the streets of New York who want to know if we can go and have coffee right then. What do people assume about Rick Russo the author?

I work really hard in all these books to create a better person on the page then I am in real life! So yeah, I think that’s what writers do. I think we’re never better than we are on the page. You write a book, and it takes you forever, and you make all kinds of mistakes, and then you finally figure out what you’re doing. And you go back, and you take out all of the worst mistakes, the ones that you can find, and you make it look like you knew what you were doing all along. That’s the final illusion. And that’s the person — that’s the Jenny Boylan that these people on the streets of New York want to have coffee with.

When you see me now do you see the person I used to be, or do you see the woman before you now?

I see the person that you are now. I see my old friend Jim in you, and I loved Jim the way I love you now. It’s for me just not an issue anymore. I told you at one point, after you had told me what was going on in your life and what your life had been like, and I said to you, it’s strange because there were very few people in my life at that point about which I would have said I would change absolutely nothing, and you were one of those people. And that is still true. But you’re different. You’re the same. You are my old friend, and you are my new friend. And none of the rest of it just makes any difference. 

 

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