Hank Devereaux, Jr. is the Chairman of the English Department at fictitious West Central Pennsylvania University. Times are tough at the school and rumors abound that budget cuts are coming and teaching positions are going to be lost. The word is out that each department head has been asked to make up a list of who is going to be cut. Henry’s people pester him constantly wanting to know if their name is on the list. Henry assures them he has no list and although this denial falls on deaf ears, the truth is he hasn’t made one out. In a bizarre set of events, Henry ends up on local TV and threatens to kill one of the ducks living on the campus pond if he doesn’t have a budget for the following year by the next day. When a duck actually does die the next day, the absurdity begins.
Richard Russo won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for his novel, Empire Falls and he displays a keen talent for realism in the settings he describes in small towns throughout the Northeast. He is able to flesh out characters and create dialogue that well suits both the major and minor inhabitants of this book.
Many have declared that Straight Man is hilarious. I wouldn’t go quite that far, I’d say it is humorous and well worth reading yet it falls a bit short of the four stars I would like to give it so let’s call this one *** ½ stars.