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THE ORDINARY WHITE BOY by Brock Clarke

THE ORDINARY WHITE BOY

By Brock Clarke

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-15-100810-8
Publisher: Harcourt

A pallid first novel chronicles a year in the life of a desultory college grad, startled into taking his life seriously by a perhaps racially motivated murder.

Working part-time for his father at the local newspaper in Little Falls, their small upstate New York hometown, aimless 27-year-old Lamar spends his days indifferently rewriting stories from larger papers, lazily typing up community bulletins, and intermittently grieving for his dying mother. He dates Glori, a secretary at the elementary school, but their relationship also lacks focus. Boyhood friend Andrew proposes leaving town to work as guards at the penitentiary, and at about the same time jeweler Mark Ramirez goes missing. While he paid little attention to Mark, the only Puerto Rican student when they were both in high school, Lamar does not consider himself a racist, though he acknowledges the backwardness of Little Falls. The police chief, his father’s cousin, is a xenophobe with a penchant for a little brutality to keep things lively, and another relation is in jail for burning down the home of an African-American family. Lamar takes to the road to escape the ordinariness of his life, goes fishing with Andrew, and sees a migrant worker die. Cathartically changed, he resolves to become a “person of substance” after declining to help the Ramirez family solve the mystery of Mark’s disappearance. He proposes marriage to Glori, who has finally tired of his personal blandness, starts working with gusto at the paper, and in some way recovers his sense of direction. After Ramirez is found to have been murdered by a white man, Lamar decides racism wasn’t the problem after all.

An almost charming hero and a vivid sense of small-town life, but the story fails to make a true claim on the reader’s attention—especially when the painstakingly elaborated racial theme dissolves at the end into vapid irrelevancy.