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Novelist Richard Russo: 'I Find Myself Now ... Having Lived The American Dream'

Richard Russo won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for his novel <em>Empire Falls.</em>
Robert F. Bukaty
Richard Russo won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for his novel Empire Falls.

Novelist Richard Russo heard a story once: A cop discovers a garage door remote in his wife's belongings, so he goes around town pointing the remote at different garages. The idea, Russo tells NPR's Steve Inskeep, is "if he could find the house where the garage door went up, he would have found his wife's lover."

Russo built his latest novel, Everybody's Fool, on that tale. It centers on a middle-aged police chief with questions about his late wife and, indeed, about his whole life. It's a sequel to 1993's Nobody's Fool, which became a movie starring Paul Newman and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Both books are about blue-collar guys in a blue-collar town — an old city in upstate New York that used to have mills and factories; the kind of place where Russo himself grew up.

Russo won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for his novel Empire Falls, which is set in another fictional mill town. Everybody's Fool is his eighth novel.

Interview Highlights

On where the characters are in their lives

Rather like their author, I suppose, they have reached a point in life where they are looking ahead at an uncertain future, but more importantly looking backwards and trying to, I don't know, figure out ... what has all of this added up to?

On how different his life is from that of his blue-collar grandfather

My own life has changed so dramatically in ways that I never would have predicted, coming from a small mill town in upstate New York, from parents and grandparents who didn't think of themselves as poor, but didn't have any money.

I find myself now, at 66, having lived the American dream to a point at which I think would have completely mystified my maternal grandfather. ... The life that I'm living — which is of course the life that he would have dreamed for me had he been that ambitious a dreamer — is pretty astonishing. ...

It would have seemed like arrogance, I think, to my grandfather to assume that he was ever going to be living a hugely different life from the life that he lived.

On who the characters of Everybody's Fool would vote for in this election

I think it's pretty clear that so many of the people that I know and love and have been writing about for a long time, alas, have lined up ... with Mr. Trump. ... I'm heartbroken. ... I think America is changing. It's changing before their eyes and I think that a lot of the angry white men who support Donald Trump have a belief that America has passed them by. And that people who don't look like them are getting ahead in the new America. And I think they all understand in some ways that Donald Trump is speaking in a less coded way than some others in the Republican Party, but he's saying Make America white again, not Make America great again. And I think, unfortunately, working class people have bought that. And that's why my heart is broken.

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