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Richard Russo Returns To North Bath, NY, In 'Everybody's Fool'

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo, is best-known for his books "Empire Falls," which was adapted into an HBO series starring Paul Newman, and "Nobody's Fool," which was adapted into a film starring Paul Newman and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

We have lost both those great actors, but the characters they portrayed in "Nobody's Fool" have been revived in Russo's new novel, "Everybody's Fool." It's set in the late-90s, 10 years after "Nobody's Fool," in the same fictional economically depressed working-class town in upstate New York.

Reviewing the novel in the New York Times, Janet Maslin described this fictional setting as, quote, "a town where dishonesty abounds, everyone misapprehends everyone else, and half the citizens are half-crazy. It's a great place for a reader to visit and it seems to be Mr. Russo's spiritual home," unquote.

The character Sully, who is played by Newman, was described by Russo as a case-study underachiever who is now in his early 70s and finds out he has a heart problem. Doug Raymer, who was a cop portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Nobody's Fool," is now the police chief, a promotion that has resulted in boredom, frustration, and a few extra pounds from sitting behind a desk.

Richard Russo, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Let's start with a reading from the first paragraph of your book. And you're welcome to set it up for us or to just dive in - whatever you prefer.

RICHARD RUSSO: (Reading) Hilldale Cemetery in North Bath was cleaved right down the middle.

GROSS: Wait, I'm going to stop you right there.

RUSSO: Yeah.

GROSS: I love that you're starting with the cemetery. So just take it again.

RUSSO: OK.

GROSS: I just want to point that out (laughter).

RUSSO: OK, OK. (Reading) Hilldale Cemetery in North Bath was cleaved right down the middle, its Hill and Dale sections divided by a two-lane macadam road, originally a colonial cart path. Death was not a thing unknown to the town's first hearty residents, but they seemed to have badly misjudged how much of it there'd be, how much ground would be needed to accommodate those lost to harsh winters, violent encounters with savages and all manner of illness. Or was it life, their own fecundity, that they'd miscalculated? Ironically, it amounted to the same thing. The plot of land set aside on the outskirts of town became crowded, then overcrowded, then chock-full, and finally the dead broke containment, spilling across the now-paved road onto the barren flats and reaching as far as the new highway spur that led to the interstate. Where they'd head next was anybody's guess.

GROSS: Richard Russo, thank you for reading that. That's from the opening of Richard Russo's new book "Everybody's Fool." The cemetery is kind of a focal point in the book. I'm always interested in what cemeteries mean to people and whether they want to be buried in one, whether they visit relatives in one, whether they feel particularly connected to the people who they visit in cemeteries when they are in the cemetery, you know, if it helps connect them to the past and to their loved one. And since you spent a lot of time in the cemetery in the novel...

RUSSO: Yeah.

GROSS: ...I'd love to hear what your relationship to cemeteries is and if your parents are in cemeteries, if you visit them a lot there?

RUSSO: Actually, despite the amount of time I spent in Hilldale in this novel, I spend almost no time in cemeteries myself. I've tried, on occasion, to summon whatever it is that draws other people that I know and love to cemeteries. In the past, when I've gone to visit the gravesite of people that I dearly loved in life - my grandfather is buried in the public cemetery in Gloversville, N.Y. My grandmother, right next to him. They were extraordinarily important people in my life.

When I was growing up, my grandfather bought a house, you know, not because he wanted to own a house - he had never even thought of that before - but because my mother and I were going to need a place to live. And he bought that house. And my mother went off to work every day and I spent time with my grandmother and grandfather. They were wonderful people that I think about a lot and have written about a lot. But when I've gone to visit their gravesite and I stand in front of the stone that has their names on it, I just feel like an idiot standing there.

GROSS: Why do you feel like an idiot?

RUSSO: Yeah, I do. I mean, and I say, why am I here because I feel much closer to them writing a story about them that reminds me of them. And in writing about them I don't feel that way. I feel like I'm bringing the best parts of them back to life, the parts that I love the most.

My mother's ashes are scattered, actually, in Menemsha Harbor at Martha's Vineyard. My father's ashes - and I'm assuming that they're his ashes because he died at the Albany VA, which is a huge (laughter) bureaucracy, and his ashes were supposed to arrive at some point. And finally, months after that I inquired, you know, saying, where are my father's ashes? - And like two days later, ashes arrived. And (laughter) - but it made me suspicious that they were six months late but then two days later, after my inquiry, they arrived.

I'm sure I have somebody's ashes that are buried in a cemetery in Johnstown, N.Y. And I have visited that site, as well. And whether it's visiting Menemsha Harbor, where my mother's ashes are scattered, or underneath the flagpole in the veteran's cemetery in Gloversville-Johnstown visiting my father's grave, I just don't feel like he's there. And if he's not there then of course I am an idiot. I'm a fool.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Richard Russo. He has a new novel called "Everybody's Fool." That's a sequel to his novel "Nobody's Fool," which starred Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Newman.

So in "Everybody's Fool," you return to characters from "Nobody's Fool." Paul Newman starred as the character of Sully, the main character in the movie adaptation of "Nobody's Fool." Philip Seymour Hoffman was the police chief, Doug Raymer - well, he was then police officer. But in the new novel, he's the police chief.

RUSSO: Right.

GROSS: And Paul Newman and Philip Seymour Hoffman are both gone now both dead. And I'm wondering how that affected your ideas about your own creations, about those characters. For people who've seen that movie, you know, Newman and Hoffman kind of define those characters.

You wrote those characters without knowing they'd ever be cast in those roles. But still, you must have been affected in some way by seeing them embody the characters you created. So...

RUSSO: Of course.

GROSS: I'm just interested in what it's like to revive those characters after the actors who portrayed them are gone.

RUSSO: Well, it's both an exhilarating and a very melancholy experience, as you might imagine. I made three movies with Paul Newman. There was "Nobody's Fool," of course and then he played Max - Max Roby in the HBO miniseries of "Empire Falls" and we did a detective movie together called "Twilight" as well.

So, you know, Paul and I weren't intimate friends or anything like that, but I had a great deal of affection for him. I'd like to think that he was fond of me, too. He would always call when a new book came out.

And he'd say hotshot - and I...

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSO: I'd know it was Paul. He'd always say that by way of hello - hotshot, good book. And so there was a personal relationship there. And, you know, they say about actors - about actors owning a role, and I think there's a lot of truth to that.

I think Newman owned that - owned that role. And when I heard him - because he didn't physically look like the man that I had described in "Nobody's Fool" - but when I saw the movie, I heard him say my lines and realized that he had found things in that character that I didn't know were there, which means, of course, that I now share proprietorship or ownership of that character with Paul Newman.

And he would later, of course, do the same thing with Max Roby. So writing a sequel in "Everybody's Fool," there are now almost three owners to Sully because there's my father, who the character was based on and there was the character that I created thinking about my man and then there's - and there's Paul Newman. So now I'm kind of down to a third ownership of this character.

But - and so I look upon Sully in the new book as a kind of collaboration (laughter), you know, as opposed to an invention. And the same was true with Philip Seymour Hoffman. I mean, I had no idea whether this book would ever be made into a movie. And if it did, I would have no control over casting, certainly. But in my mind, I was thinking about Philip Seymour Hoffman.

And I was probably 250, 300 pages into the writing of "Everybody's Fool" and seeing Philip in my mind's eye and imagining him playing this character.

GROSS: Again.

RUSSO: Again because it was a very small role but a much bigger one in this book. And I was imagining him sinking his teeth into a much more complex character than there was in "Nobody's Fool" - thinking about all of this when the word came that Philip had overdosed.

And it threw me for, as you might imagine, a considerable loop - as I say not because I thought there was going to be a movie and he was going to star in it, but I kind, you know, lost my North Star a little bit in writing his character and thinking about him. And my first thought was well, I better - you know, since he's not going to play the role, maybe I should try to banish him from my imagination and from his ownership of this character and not be seeing his face every day. But he simply refused to go away.

And finally, I just made my peace with it and thought you know All right, it's Philip Seymour Hoffman. And that's what I'll write to. And if I'm very lucky, some other great actor will come in if there's a movie made and make the role his own, and then I'll you know, then it will be another collaboration.

RUSSO: If you're just joining us, my guest is Richard Russo. He has a new novel called "Everybody's Fool." That's a sequel to his novel "Nobody's Fool," which starred Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Newman. Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is novelist Richard Russo. His new novel "Everybody's Fool" is a sequel to the novel "Nobody's Fool" and the movie adaptation of that starred Paul Newman and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

So the character of Sully, which Paul Newman played, is based on your father. And I think several of the men in your novels have been based on your father's friends, who you spent some time with when you were a boy. And we talked in an earlier interview about how you weren't entirely sure why you kept going back to this world, to your father's world, and giving voice to some of the people from that world who you knew when you were young. Do you have - that was in 2002 when you said that - do you have a better idea of why you keep going back there now?

RUSSO: Oh, I wish I could say I did. It would indicate some growth on my part.

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSO: If I were able to - you know, if I were able to answer something in 2016 that I didn't know the answer to in 2002, wouldn't that be lovely? And I think that that's why I keep returning to my towns in upstate New York - my mill towns in upstate New York - is that, I don't know, there are still questions that I - despite the number of books that I've written - that I still don't know the answers to.

And also, I just love my parents' generation. I love that World War II generation. I love their optimism, those men who came back, like my father was a D-Day guy. And those men came back having won the war that we needed most to win. And they came back to their spouses and they had the G.I. Bill and it looked like America would be theirs. It would be theirs.

America was changing right before their eyes, and it was theirs. That's what they felt like. The war that they had won entitled them to a piece of an America that - and I loved that. I loved their optimism, their sense of a new nation.

GROSS: So the character of Sully fought in World War II, as did your father. Your character of Sully was on Omaha Beach. And he asked this question at one point in your new novel, had he gotten off easy?

During the war he'd somehow managed to be standing in the exact right place while more talented men and better soldiers happened to be standing in the exact wrong one. Often that was right next to Sully. For a while, there on Omaha Beach, there had been a new, utterly lethal lottery every few seconds. Did you often wonder how surviving affected your father and affected the life he chose to lead, the risks he took, his attitude toward life and death?

RUSSO: I've thought about it a lot. And writing that passage that you just read, of course I was thinking about my father. My father was one of those guys that didn't talk about the war much. And I had opportunities to ask him about it, and most of those opportunities I neglected. Once or twice I asked him.

And what he told me was pretty close to what I'd just told you, that it had - survival didn't have really an awful lot to do with talent. It had an enormous amount to do with luck. Competence would help you to a certain degree, but it wouldn't get you home. For that you had to be lucky as well.

For my father, who made it from Utah Beach through the Hurtgen forest and all the way to Berlin, I think it changed his life much as it changed Sully's life. There's an important scene in "Everybody's Fool" where Sully is talking to Ms. Beryl who does not want him to go.

And she doesn't want him to go because she says it's going to change him when he comes - she fears that when he comes back he will be unrecognizable to himself and also to her.

GROSS: And this is his teacher, Ms. Beryl.

RUSSO: This is Ms. Beryl, yeah. And he will be unrecognizable to himself. He will lose himself in the sense that he will lose his self. And I think my father came back a changed man.

That's what the photographs look like. He was a young, handsome daredevil when he left, and he came back looking distinctly middle-aged, a man who had witnessed horrors. And I think that when he came back from the war, he became - he became a gambler.

And I think that sitting down in a little house with a mortgage with my mother and then of course I came along, to live a suburban life, an ordinary life, was simply unthinkable to him.

He needed the tables. He needed to play poker. And he played both sides of the poker table. He was a dealer at times and also a poker player. And I think the level of excitement - he just had to have it coming back from the war. He just wasn't going to sit down and be a father and a husband.

GROSS: Which is probably one of the major reasons why your parents divorced when you were young.

RUSSO: Of course.

GROSS: Yeah. So, you know, in the book you have to see the world from his point of view and have empathy for it. But that's the point of view that kind of lost you a father because he was there only irregularly in your life when you were growing up.

RUSSO: That's exactly right.

GROSS: So is it hard for you, the son, to see the world through your father's eyes knowing that those are the eyes that kind of shut you out?

RUSSO: No, those are the - that's the deal isn't it, Terry? I mean, that's the novelist - that's what the novelist does. Novel-writing, story-writing in general, is an exercise in empathy. And it's helped me to understand my father in ways that I probably never would have.

I might have - had I never become a storyteller, had I never written novels and had I never invoked him in so many different ways out of a sense of yearning, I never would've come to know him as well as I have. And so I view that as one of the great gifts of becoming a novelist. And learning to love him after my fashion, and learning that he loved me after his, has made me a better father.

And I haven't used my father - as much empathy as I have for him and as much - he was just a wildly, wildly, wildly entertaining man as I got to know as I grew older - I haven't held him up as a study of - in fatherhood. And I haven't modeled my own fathering with my own daughters on his example. I don't have very many rules as a father, but the one is that I am always there.

And in the Russo house when my daughters were growing up, we had dinner together at the dining room table every night. If there were 12 nights during the entire time my daughters were growing up where we didn't have dinner as a family that would've been a lot. So I show up in their lives and also try to be entertaining (laughter) to them.

I hope that when I'm gone that they laugh, and remembering me that they will remember with a kind of - the kind of fondness in terms of my entertainment value that I feel - (laughter) that I feel in remembering my old man.

GROSS: I assume when you're gone, they won't be visiting you in a cemetery, that you won't be in one?

RUSSO: Well, that won't be my decision, Terry. It'll be interesting to see what they decide. I've made my...

GROSS: You're not going to leave your wishes behind?

RUSSO: I've made my wishes clear. But, you know, strange things happen after the fact. That'll be up to them.

GROSS: Can I ask your wishes, or is that too personal? It's fine.

RUSSO: I would - yeah. I - you know, following what we were talking about earlier and, you know, the dead taking over and us being - I think we need to take up as little space as possible. So yeah, I want to be cremated and returned to this earth in a way that doesn't contaminate it.

GROSS: My guest is Richard Russo. His new novel "Everybody's Fool" is a sequel to his novel "Nobody's Fool." After we take a short break, we'll talk about how he figured out that his mother had OCD and why he fears that in trying to help her, he made it worse. And David Bianculli will review last night's series finale of the CBS series "The Good Wife." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Richard Russo. His new novel "Everybody's Fool" is a sequel to his novel "Nobody's Fool" which was adapted into a film starring Paul Newman and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Russo's novel "Empire Falls" was adapted into an HBO miniseries also starring Paul Newman.

"Everybody's Fool" like "Nobody's Fool" is set in the economically-depressed, working-class town of North Bath, a fictional town in Upstate New York inspired by the town where Russo grew up. The main character, Sully, the character Newman portrayed in "Nobody's Fool," is inspired by Russo's late father.

There's a character in your new novel who beats his wife. There's a, you know - a scene of that. And I'm assuming you probably knew men who hit their wives or their children or both. And your novels are usually from, you know, the men's point of view. You did write a memoir that was a lot about your mother.

But I'm wondering if you got completely different views of relationships hanging out with your father and his friends on those occasions when you did, but being raised primarily by your mother and by your grandparents who, I'm sure, did not shrug off the idea of spousal abuse or of gambling or of being an irresponsible father.

RUSSO: Yeah, growing up in my lower middle-class neighborhood in Gloversville, N.Y., spousal abuse was not a thing unknown, but it was, in fact, pretty much swept under the carpet at the time. And I remember stories of the cop car pulling up in front of the house and going inside and then the cops leaving again because it was deemed a domestic issue.

GROSS: Your house or someone else's house?

RUSSO: Not my house, thank God. Thank, God, no, no, not my own house or not anybody in my family. But I think when I was growing up in the '50s, the right of a man to punch his wife that was seen as - if not a God-given right, it was something that the police certainly didn't interfere with.

So it was not a thing unknown. I, over the years as a writer, have tried to look at both sides of, you know - I've - I have written from the point of view of women and there are sections in this book of - Sully's lover Ruth has some extended sections in this book where she's talking about male behavior and where we get to see things through the female point of view.

But Roy Purdy, the character that you mention who beats his now ex-wife - despite the fact to my trademark, I suppose, in all of my novels is to try to feel a kind of empathy for my characters and figure out why they do what they do and to live in their psyches and travel for a ways down the road of life in their shoes.

Roy Purdy, I have to say, tested the limits of my empathy in ways that maybe no other fictional character has. And when I finished writing the Roy Purdy sections of this book and then every time as I went through my numerous revisions, being inside his head made me feel unclean.

And I would shower after my sessions where I was dealing with that character, not because he is the embodiment of evil - although he does incredibly evil things and takes enormous pleasure in it - but you feel unclean when you make something like that real because, of course, you find them in your experiences of life the things that you have witnessed. And that was not a pleasant experience writing about Mr. Purdy in this book.

GROSS: So did showering help?

RUSSO: No.

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSO: Of course not.

GROSS: Can't wash it away, can you?

RUSSO: That's not - there's no soap for that. There's no amount of hot water that cleanses you of that kind of, you know, knowledge of evil and its pleasures.

GROSS: Did you feel sinful for creating this character and his sins?

RUSSO: Yes, of course. No fun at all that.

GROSS: Right. But he's not...

RUSSO: But then I was raised Catholic. I, you know - I...

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSO: So I'm used to that.

GROSS: Right. OK. I know your mother who you wrote about in your memoir - I don't know, like 3 years ago maybe...

RUSSO: Right.

GROSS: She had OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. Was it actually officially diagnosed as such?

RUSSO: No. No, it wasn't. And there are - if you were to talk to someone, you know - other members of my family, you know, they might've come to a different conclusion. There's no doubt in my mind that...

GROSS: What made you diagnose her that way since it's your diagnosis?

RUSSO: Actually, I didn't know that much about OCD. I knew that its symptoms - before I knew that there was a term for it - I knew that its symptoms had cut a wide swath through my family, especially on the female side, but, of course, I've inherited it from both sides. My father became a compulsive gambler after the war and kind of mastered it towards the end of his life.

But the kind of ritualistic behavior that OCD people have to deal with has cut a wide swath through my mother's family and, of course, you know, genetics the gift that keeps on giving, (laughter) was already manifesting itself in my daughters. And I'm not - I mean, one of my daughters self-diagnosed and immediately got treatment and is doing just fine. Thank God.

But because of that, because of her very smart self-diagnosis and then going and getting help - because I was so fascinated by that, I started reading books about obsessive compulsive disorder. And I was reading about my mother.

That's what led me to the diagnosis was that I started reading about the disease and in doing so, I was just like a stiff jab. Every page - every time I turned the page of the first book on obsessive compulsive disorder, it reminded me of another of my mother's really uncharacteristic behaviors and something that I just - I never understood as a boy.

GROSS: What were some of those behaviors?

RUSSO: Well, I mean, she had certain aversions. Most of obsessive compulsive disorder is - and I hope I'm going to get this right because there are a lot of sufferers out there and I don't want to be wrong about this and I'm not a doctor - but most of it has something to do with an idea of the possibility of contamination, which is why so many OCD people wash their hands all the time. That's a very well-known symptom, but other people have other symptoms.

And my mother had color symptoms. She hated the color yellow and couldn't have yellow flowers in the house or if for some reason she was at the grocery store and her favorite brand of toilet paper was available that day only in yellow, she would have a kind of breakdown about that.

And there were certain foods that she was convinced were corrupt in some way and that would make you ill. Olive oil - she couldn't bear to be around olive oil, if you were using it to cook in a pan. Although she loved a spaghetti sauce which you can't make without olive oil. If she didn't have to be there in the kitchen and didn't know that the olive oil (laughter) was in the sauce, I mean...

GROSS: This must've been really baffling to you as a kid.

RUSSO: It was absolutely baffling to me, and yet, you know, when you're a kid and you have nothing else to compare it to - I mean, normal is what you see every day, and so that was normal. And I wrote the book trying to explain the difficulties in our relationship as being the result of our being so different.

Only to discover, of course, by the end which I should've - had I been a little bit wiser or smarter - realized that I was writing a book not about how different we were, but about how similar we were. I don't have the same OCD manifestations that my mother had, but I have my own particular set.

GROSS: What are yours?

RUSSO: Well, I have managed - I think, by stumbling on writing, I have actually stumbled on an OCD manifestation that is actually been good for me. My ability to sit hour after hour turning over the same sentences 20 times because they don't feel quite right is the same basic impulse that some people have walking down the street, and they have to touch, you know, the mailbox, the railing on the porch. You know, if they're going someplace, there are certain rituals that they have to perform or their world isn't right.

For me - I mean, there was a time where I thought I might actually turn out to be a compulsive gambler like my father. You know, I hate to tell this story because it shames me even now, but there was a time when I once gave blood in order to get into a poker game, in order to have the stakes.

But when I discovered storytelling, writing became absolutely compulsive to me. It was all I thought about. It was all I did. And now what could've been unhealthy had it - had I turned to something else - drugs or alcohol or whatever - I now - I actually find draft 17 of "Everybody's Fool" quite pleasurable.

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSO: It's a living. It's a living, Terry (laughter).

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is novelist Richard Russo whose new novel "Everybody's Fool" is a sequel to his novel "Nobody's Fool." Let's take a short break then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is novelist Richard Russo. His new novel "Everybody's Fool" is a sequel to the novel "Nobody's Fool." And the movie adaptation of "Nobody's Fool" starred Paul Newman and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

So don't take this the wrong way, but - when your mother died - because you had so much responsibility for her for so many years 'cause it was hard for her to take care of herself - and I just - I don't mean because of, like, declining physical health but because of her obsessions and compulsions and ritualistic behavior and other things, you really had to - you took her with you when you went to college in Arizona. You took care of her a lot over many years.

Was there some sense of relief when she died? Or let me put it another way because that sounds all wrong, but...

RUSSO: Actually, it's perfectly fine, Terry.

GROSS: Is it OK?

RUSSO: The way that you put it is perfectly fine. Anybody who has been a caregiver, especially a caregiver over - over a long period of time understands that relief and will admit to it. It's terrible. It's a terrible thing to feel that relief.

And it's made even worse by the fact that you feel so incredibly guilty for the feeling. So no, there's nothing - there's nothing wrong with your question. There may be something wrong with my answer. I mean, I believe in my heart of hearts that I loved my mother dearly, and I know that she loved me. I was the apple of her eye.

And because I also tried to keep her safe, she felt the same sense of duty and love towards me that I felt and continue to feel towards her. And there should be no guilty - I mean, I wouldn't - looking back on it, right, even now knowing what I do about OCD, I know that almost everything I did from the time that I was a child was wrong.

If somebody could have - somebody with the right knowledge and understanding could have confronted my mother - you know, this is treatable, and it's treatable. It's just immersion therapy. Whatever it is that scares you, you put yourself right up close to it and live with it until doesn't scare you anymore. That's how you get better.

GROSS: What did you do wrong?

RUSSO: And - well, I made her - when she wanted me to do something and wanted me to do it her way, even when it made sense, that's what I did. And so instead of forcing her to live in the larger world, I helped her create a smaller one that she felt safe in. And it just got smaller and smaller and smaller.

So I have a measure of guilt in knowing that over a very long period of time, someone that I loved dearly and I owed a great deal to - I mean, I wouldn't even be a writer if it wasn't for her and her library of books which I had read just about every single one of by the time I was 18 - but for her I wouldn't even be a writer. I owe her an enormous debt, but I also know that I did everything wrong right from the start.

And it looked like I was relieving her suffering and her anxiety, but I know now that I was doing the exact opposite. And so her death was a release from anxiety. And we always hear people of people being at peace. And I think that for a lot of people that's just language. But I don't think it was for my mother. It was finally a surcease of anxiety.

And the relief I felt was partly an acknowledgment of that but also a release from my own complicity from - because by that time I was beginning to understand that instead of relieving her suffering as I was trying to do, I was in fact the cause of most of it. And so, you know, nothing wrong with your question...

GROSS: It doesn't sound like you were the cause of it.

RUSSO: There was - (laughter).

GROSS: You unknowingly maybe enabled some of the anxiety, but you certainly...

RUSSO: Yeah, that's a good way...

GROSS: ...Doesn't sound like you were the cause of it. And let's face it, people didn't know about OCD like they do now. I'm not sure there was a diagnosis when you were young.

RUSSO: No, there wasn't...

GROSS: Yeah, so...

RUSSO: There absolutely wasn't. And really not - as I say, I was still basically ignorant on it, even though - even at age 60.

GROSS: How old was she when she died and what did she die of?

RUSSO: She was in her late 80s, and she died of congestive heart failure.

GROSS: I want to quote something that the police chief Raymer thinks, and this refers to something you'd said earlier. Raymer had always been tortured by self-doubt, allowing other people's opinions about him to trump his own so thoroughly that he was never sure that he actually had any.

As a kid, he'd been particularly susceptible to name-calling, which not only wounded him deeply but turned him imbecilic. "Call him stupid, and he suddenly was stupid. Call him a scaredy-cat, and he became a coward." So I'm quoting you there.

RUSSO: Yes, thank you (laughter).

GROSS: But I feel that way myself a lot. Like, I...

RUSSO: Of course, don't we all?

GROSS: Like, if somebody gives me positive feedback, I feel like yeah, I'm really OK. Give me feedback, and I think, like, oh my God, I'm such a failure. I'm so horrible. And I think...

RUSSO: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Some people more susceptible to that effect than others - people are always showing you who they think you are. And I think some of us are more susceptible than others to believing that mirror that other people hold up. Where are you on that scale? (Laughter).

RUSSO: Well, and this goes back again to what I said earlier about being raised Catholic. I - being raised Catholic, I'm fairly high on that scale.

And because I listen to you, Terry, every night (laughter) on FRESH AIR and know as a result of, you know, 20 years of - at least a little bit about you, I suspect that you and your people are fairly high on that scale as well.

GROSS: (Laughter).

RUSSO: So some of this is genetic in origin. And to try to behave differently would be swimming upstream in our own particular genetic makeup.

GROSS: So finally, I want to ask you about the title of your new book "Everybody's Fool." So it's a sequel to "Nobody's Fool." So you knew you wanted to call this "Everybody's Fool" and how, like, title resonates. And you had to have a reason to call it that.

And so you actually Raymer, the police chief, saying at some point I'm so tired of being everybody's fool. Did you know you had to give some character that line (laughter) in order to have the title that you needed?

RUSSO: Well, it was nice when it turned up. I had the opportunity to do so. But I'm sitting here in the studio, of course, looking at the cover of my book which says "Everybody's Fool." And there's a name right below that, and it's Richard Russo.

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSO: So I leave you to contemplate what may or may not be an irony (laughter) here. I only mention it because it occurred to me.

GROSS: That's hilarious. I hadn't thought of that.

RUSSO: (Laughter).

GROSS: On that note, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

RUSSO: Thank you, Terry. It's been a joy.

GROSS: Richard Russo's new novel "Everybody's Fool" is the sequel to his novel "Nobody's Fool." After take a short break, TV critic David Bianculli will review last night's series finale of "The Good Wife." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.