October 2002

Liz Miller

fiction

The Ordinary White Boy by Brock Clarke

The Ordinary White Boy goes out of its way to be ordinary. Its depiction of small town life, the gritty details and general malaise that haunt the characters of Brock Clark - this is a book about the little guy, the small town folk who never cross the county line, who live life quietly. But while there are characters, just waking up to the misery of their lives, that do truly resonate, Lamar Kerry, the titular young man of whiteness, just goes from whiny to, well, more whiny as he tries to revolutionize his life -- and fails, mostly for lack of trying.

It's not that he doesn't have anything to complain about. A resident of his childhood town, Little Falls, New York, Lamar's 27 and only just barely managing to avoid living with his parents, instead living in an apartment a mile away. Lamar spends his days drinking and working part-time for his dad at the local newspaper, lacking the ambition and energy to make a new life for himself anywhere else. His mother is in the advanced stages of multiple sclerosis, one of his uncles is in jail, and both his cousin and another uncle are dead. The only bright spot in his life is Glori, his depressed girlfriend of two years - routine gets him through the rest of the day.

Lamar receives a wake-up call, though, when a former classmate of his - and the only Hispanic in town - goes missing, bringing the racism of the community to the surface. The police chief, also an uncle of Lamar's, shrugs it off, the rest of the town is apathetic - the only one who appears to be affected is the man's white wife Jodi. Jodi entreats Lamar for help, especially because of his family connections, and Lamar, feeling guilty, promises to do the best he can. The best he can do, however, turns out to be running away from home for a while, accompanied by his friend Andrew, the local bartender going though a mid-life crisis. The two of them drive through upstate New York, meeting other people trying to figure out what they're doing with their lives. Lamar gets into a fight, Andrew does some fishing, and resigned to their fates, they return back to Little Falls to resume their lives. But Lamar finds that it's not as easy as that - in order to return to his job and the woman he loves, he has to actually commit to them. In short, he has to stop being an ordinary white boy, and start being an ordinary white man.

Throughout the book, the one thing Lamar doesn't want to be is a "small town wrestler," someone so concerned with the small problems of the small town that they completely forget that there's a world beyond it. For, according to Lamar, manliness is not determined by big pecs or a large salary - it's determined by one's worldliness. But Lamar's awareness of this does not prevent him from this fate - instead, he willingly chooses to be emasculated, to take the easy way out and retreat into the small life he's carved out in his small town. And it's a tragedy, but it's a tragedy of laziness, of apathy, of pointlessness - especially given that he's charted his own journey, that the wry first person of the narrator has been conscious of his choices the entire time.

It's not that Lamar doesn't have plenty to complain about. But it's hard to feel sorry for him when it's mostly his fault.

The Ordinary White Boy by Brocke Clark
Harvest Books
ISBN: 0156027097
237 pages