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Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Empire Falls,” returns with his third novel about the folks in North Bath, New York, the subjects of his 1993 novel “Nobody’s Fool” and its 2016 sequel, “Everybody’s Fool.” But in “Somebody’s Fool” (Knopf), the struggling town is finished, about to be swallowed up by its wealthier neighbors – and the small town’s residents face radical changes.
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The changes would be gradual, or that was how the idea had been sold all along. But no sooner did North Bath’s annexation to Schuyler Springs become official than rumors began circulating about “next steps.” North Bath High, the Beryl Peoples Middle School, and one of the town’s two elementary schools would close at the end of the school year, just a few months away. In the fall their students would be bused to schools in Schuyler. Okay, none of this was unexpected. The whole point of consolidation was to eliminate redundancies, so education, the most expensive of these, would naturally be at the top of that list. Still, those pushing for annexation had argued that such changes would be incremental, the result of natural attrition.
Teachers wouldn’t be fired, merely encouraged, by means of incentives, to retire. Younger staff would apply for positions in the Schuyler unified school district, which would make every effort to accommodate them. The school buildings themselves would be converted into county offices. Same deal with the police. The low-slung brick building that housed the police department and the jail would be repurposed, and Doug Raymer, who’d been making noises about retiring as chief of police for years, could probably get repurposed as well. His half-dozen or so officers could apply for positions within the Schuyler PD. Hell, they’d probably even keep their old uniforms; the left sleeve would just bear a different patch. Sure, other redundancies would follow. There’d be no further need for a town council (there being no town) or for a mayor (which in Bath wasn’t even a full-time position). The town already purchased its water from Schuyler Springs, whose sanitation department would now collect its trash, which everybody agreed was a significant upgrade. At present Bath citizens were responsible for hauling their crap to the dump, or hiring the Squeers Brothers and letting their fleet of decrepit dump trucks do it for them.
Naturally, not everyone had been in favor of this quantum shift. Some maintained there was really only one genuine redundancy that annexation would eliminate, and that was North Bath itself.
Excerpt from “Somebody’s Fool” by Richard Russo, copyright 2023 by Richard Russo. Published by Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
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