by Keith Taylor
Among his many other qualities, Richard Russo is our contemporary master of the fictional small town, and particularly of the small-town diner. His novels, though set in small places, are big and sprawling, in the best sense. They involve lots of characters of all generations; his characters come from all the different classes that make up any place (although he is obviously much more sympathetic to the working poor); the novels move easily into earlier moments to give us the necessary backstories; they can make you laugh out loud in one chapter and overwhelm you with tragedy in the next. But to my mind the best moments in Russo's best books always happen in a diner, the wonderfully friendly and fast-disappearing "greasy spoon" the place where you could get eggs, bacon, and hash browns rather than a latte and a croissant. You remember.
When Russo's novel Nobody's Fool was turned into a movie in 1994, the diner that was the center of the best conversation almost disappeared. It was still a pretty interesting film. Paul Newman was wonderful as the crotchety self-employed Sully Sullivan, hobbling his way into old age and learning, finally, to assume the responsibilities that he had in an unforgettably lovable way avoided for most of his life. The late Jessica Tandy, in her last major role, appeared as Sully's landlady. Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith played supporting roles, and a young Philip Seymour Hoffman had a bit part as a local cop. If you look closely, you can already see the actor who would prove a master in his portrayal of Truman Capote last year. There is a great last scene in the movie, an exact adaptation of the novel, where Newman/Sully, physically exhausted, falls asleep before he has finished taking off his boots, a small but contented smile lighting his worn face.
All of this is lovely. But Hattie's Diner, the spiritual center of the novel, has almost
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