An impulsive purchase at an antiques show is the first step in the liberation of a Kansas insurance executive from the life he was never meant to live.
With 19 books and two plays to his credit, Lehrer (The Phony Marine, 2006, etc.) may be remembered ultimately as a writer rather than America’s senior, excruciatingly evenhanded television news figure. This short novel is a piece of pleasant fluff about buttoned-down Midwestern fire and casualty CEO Otis Halstead, dragged to the kickoff of a charity antiques show by his handsome, equally buttoned-down wife Sally. There he spots the cast-iron toy fire engine that was too expensive to be under the Christmas tree when he was a kid. Now, perfectly preserved and packaged, it can be his for only $12,350. To Sally’s astonishment, Otis whips out the Amex and buys it. Impending madness? In Eureka, Kan., where the other big business besides insurance is a Menninger-type mental clinic, mid-life mental maladies are not just expected but welcome. Shrinks stand at the ready 24/7. And it is to the shrink that Sally packs Otis when the fire truck turns out to be just the first bit of recaptured youth. The 59-year-old chairman next buys a Red Ryder BB rifle, then a professional football helmet and finally a mid-century Cushman scooter. Alas, for Sally, Dr. Russ Tonganoxie, the assigned psychiatrist—a much-married refugee from Pennsylvania, a man who has a collection of four Jeeps in his garage—is not much help. Happily unmedicated, Otis takes to riding the Cushman wearing his football helmet, the Red Ryder BB gun hanging off the saddle, looking for pleasure. Then the suicide of Otis’s protégé precipitates a complete breakaway, as he heads for the state line and adventure.
Harmless fun for old guys.