The Ordinary White Boy - Brock Clarke I first learned about Brock Clarke, and subsequently his novels, because he was my creative writing professor for four quarters at the University of Cincinnati. Therefore, having known him personally, I had preconceived notions about what his writing might be like. He was an enjoyable teacher, and I found him funny, and because I liked some of the books I had to read for his classes ([b:Motherless Brooklyn|328854|Motherless Brooklyn|Jonathan Lethem||1971553],[b:The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie|517188|The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie |Muriel Spark||6132856]), I really hoped I would love his books, but because of other books I read that I really didn’t like ([b:Jesus' Son|608287|Jesus' Son|Denis Johnson||1033961], [b:Willful Creatures|46205|Willful Creatures|Aimee Bender||2386]), I was equally afraid I would hate them. What I was not prepared for was, dare I say it, boredom.

First of all, to me, Lamar is not an ordinary white boy name at all. I cannot recall ever having heard of a white man named Lamar. But anyway, Lamar Kerry, Jr., the ordinary white boy to which the title refers, just wasn’t a character I could care much about. He is a lazy slacker with the notion that he is better than just about everyone in town, but does nothing to prove this. He works part time at minimum wage for the newspaper his father edits (how can he possibly support himself on those wages?), after he went to college and majored in Russian Studies, “maintained a gentleman’s C average, and acquired a barely working knowledge of the difference between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks,” (7). With a useless degree (how many Russians does Lamar encounter? Spoiler alert: it’s zero.), he manages to be both overeducated and undereducated. Despite sounding like he’s proud of his educational mediocrity, Lamar sometimes comes off as sounding smarter than he should, like referencing Mae West, Lana Turner, W.C. Fields and [b:An American Tragedy|331319|An American Tragedy|Theodore Dreiser||6170936]. Lamar comes off as the type of person who is aware of hardly anything that happened before he was born, so all these references to the first half of the century surprised me. But none of these things are the real reason the book didn’t work for me. There were some lines that I could hear in Brock’s voice, but too much of it I found flat or clunky. Lamar’s narrative voice just didn’t work in my brain for some reason. Since Lamar is the first person narrator, the narration should sound something like his normal voice, but I can’t imagine any real person talking this way. It may be the scarcity of contractions:
I go down to the station after I am done with Jodi Ramirez. I have some questions for Uncle Bart about the official police investigation. My uncle is sitting behind his big wooden desk. He is sweating through his uniform shirt. It is July, after all, and nearly ninety outside. The police station does not have air-conditioning. But my uncle has been known to sweat through his shirt even in the heart of winter. In a family of rail-thin men with low blood pressure, my uncle is the one fat, hypertensive Kerry. [39]

The novel is loosely based around the mysterious disappearance of Mark Rodriguez, the lone Hispanic person in their gringo town. Lamar starts off outraged that Mark is missing and no one other than Mark’s wife and daughters seem to care, but Lamar’s actions quickly turn back to apathy after he does nothing but interview his fellow townspeople about Mark’s disappearance, and he finds out no one else feels anything but apathy too. He keeps telling us he cares about finding Mark, but his actions prove otherwise, and the last time he speaks to Jodi is less than half-way through the book. Mark’s disappearance is finally solved off-stage, which I found unsatisfactory. This book is like an anti-mystery novel: not only do we have a crime which the main character fails to figure out, but once Lamar abandons his nearly nonexistent crime-solving career to go on an “adventure” with Andrew, the importance of the crime to the plot takes a sharp nose-dive.

The book ends on a positive note, but it didn’t really leave me feeling any better. In fact, I felt depressed the whole time I was reading this book, and I was glad to move on. Since I put off writing this review for a week, I have in the mean time read Brock’s other two novels, and I am very glad to say that the writing gets progressively better in [b:An Arsonist's Guide To Writers' Homes In New England|733462|An Arsonist's Guide To Writers' Homes In New England|Brock Clarke||1893490] and [b:Exley|8184157|Exley|Brock Clarke||13030829].