THE NATURAL MAN by Ed. McClanshan

THE NATURAL MAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Harry Eastep is an immigrant from Dayton, Ohio, who comes--with his telephone operator mother--to live and go to high-school in the ""south-central northeastern"" Kentucky town of Needmore. He does not, to say the least, belong. It's the early 1950s; Needmore has little except a pool hall, a liquor store, a beauty parlor, a drug store, and a movie palace--where Harry works while lusting after the cinema-owner's blubbery daughter, Nadine ""Oodles"" Ockerman. The town is showing some interest in that upstart fad called television--so Mr. Ockerman comes up with a last-ditch scheme to hold the populace's attention: a sex-education show and film imported down from Cincinnati, featuring Philander C. Rexroat, Sex D., and his demure assistant Nurse Ratliff. (""Hey Phil . . . don't you drink tee many martoonies, now. And put them goddamn choppers in, you look like billy-hell."") But the town's main preoccupation is its hope in the local hi/h-school basketball team--a hope which flares with the arrival of Monk McHorning, an aboriginal ringer brought in (and, to be safe, legally adopted) by the principal/coach. And much of the humor in this fine comic debut stems from Monk--who drinks, smokes, and takes especial care of his sexual equipment (""the Big Inch""), about which he makes a seemingly unlimited number of irrepressible double-entendres; he is fawned over, cossetted, treated to clothes; after all, at 237 lbs. and 6'5"", Monk is the intimidating standout in a team that is otherwise ""an assortment of fat boys and walleyed boys and knock-kneed boys and cross-eyed boys and pigeon-toed boys, and way down at the far end of the bench, the last of the Gibbses, the twins Lester and Chester--better known, respectively, as Six-Finger Gibbs and Four-Finger Gibbs, Lester having somehow acquired, during their joint tenancy of Opal Gibbs' capacious womb, both of Chester's thumbs."" Undeniably, McClanahan's story here has little girth. But his reserved, almost classically dainty diction (joyously incongruous with the rude/crude subject matter) breaks upon the ear in a manner reminiscent of S. J. Perelman. And the swift-moving result--bubbles of dialect mingling with silly verbal surprises, accents and jokes and insults all arranged like trophies in a case of deadpan description--is perhaps the freshest bit of Southern-fiction humor since A Confederacy of Dunces.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1983
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux