A folksy debut poignantly and humorously renders the vernacular of small-town Ohio.
Once readers get over the initial shock of Lehman’s creatively misspelled phonetics, their euphonious rhythm makes perfect sense. In rural Granton, Ohio, during the mid-1980s, 34-year-old Lori, “a fine focksy lady” who works at the local hospital, gets along modestly with her two daughters. Mariah (“already in addlelessons”) and eight-year-old Carrie Ann (“the brane’s around here”) have to tolerate Lori’s vulgar new boyfriend, Roy—“bad news like most of her mothers boyfriends,” according to the younger sister, who is onto his empty pockets and swagger. Lori’s brother Mocky, a French professor in Columbus, is coming to stay for the summer, which is rather mysterious; he hasn’t visited for years due to a falling-out with their father, Papaw. Kindly, bald, mustachioed Mocky is just what Carrie Ann needs for a playmate. While sulky teenager Mariah shirks babysitting duty, slipping out with her sleazy boyfriend, Carrie Ann and Mocky amuse themselves grandly at the drive-in, the “put-put” golf course and the fair. In a fit of drunken anger, Roy reveals to Carrie Ann the shocking truth of Mocky’s sexual preference. “Roy told me your a sissy boy and a dirty pet-her-ass,” she says, sending Mocky sadly away. Yet after Papaw’s death, Mocky returns for the funeral, and the motley group begins to function as a family when Lori reveals that she is pregnant with Roy’s baby. It may be slender, but this short “novelette” conveys a full-fleshed humanity, thanks to the author’s savory use of language.
Retired after 32 years as a freshman comp instructor, Lehman could easily have titled his winning, experimental work The English Teacher’s Revenge.