The Ordinary White Boy

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Endearing, infuriating, and utterly irresistible, Lamar Kerry, Jr., is a 27-year-old Ordinary White Boy. He wears khaki pants, work boots, and flannel shirts, dances like Mick Jagger when he dances at all (only when drunk), and when in doubt, he reaches for a beer. His father sent him to college expecting him to become extraordinary, but Lamar returned home, a bright, cocky, overeducated, middle-class boy adrift in a depressed, comatose, working-class town. Now the town's only Hispanic is missing and feared dead,...
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Overview

Endearing, infuriating, and utterly irresistible, Lamar Kerry, Jr., is a 27-year-old Ordinary White Boy. He wears khaki pants, work boots, and flannel shirts, dances like Mick Jagger when he dances at all (only when drunk), and when in doubt, he reaches for a beer. His father sent him to college expecting him to become extraordinary, but Lamar returned home, a bright, cocky, overeducated, middle-class boy adrift in a depressed, comatose, working-class town. Now the town's only Hispanic is missing and feared dead, Lamar's mother is enfeebled by MS, and both his father and his girlfriend are tired of being disappointed in him. Can Lamar turn himself into a professor of "racial remediation" and save the soul of his town? Can he stop hiding out in his ordinariness and do what is right by his father, his mother, his girlfriend, and himself? Can this ordinary white boy finally become a man?
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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
A confident, fierce, and hilarious novel with great emotional richness.
Joanna Scott
A confident, fierce, and hilarious novel with great emotional richness.
Publishers Weekly
This first novel has a familiar protagonist and setting: a bright youth trying to come to terms with life in a depressed and depressing little town in upstate New York. Clarke is no Richard Russo or Russell Banks, however, both of whom have done comic and poignant wonders with similar material. Twenty-seven-year-old Lamar Kerry is still living at home in Little Falls, a mile from his weak-kneed newspaper editor father and his multiple sclerosis-afflicted mother. His girlfriend, Glori, works as a school secretary; his best friend, Andrew, is planning, rather nervously, to become a prison guard at the new jail (at least the pay is good), and Lamar hangs around his father's newspaper office doing odd reporting jobs. The community is nonplussed when jeweler Mark Ramirez, the only Latino in town, goes missing and racial motives are suspected. For a time it looks as if this may stir Lamar into action, but when he interviews community members about their reactions to the crime, he realizes that he is as myopic as they are, and he proves hopelessly inept when Ramirez's wife reaches out to him for help. In the end Lamar does nothing much. He and Glori fumble along in their relationship; he and Andrew go on a drunken, self-destructive road trip. The mystery of the murder is solved in a way that absolves the town from its racism. And Lamar plans to go on hiding his head in the sand. This rather dull tale could have been redeemed by a genuinely comic vision, or some lively characterizations, but Clarke's style (which tends towards ending chapters with lines like "So that's what I do.") is as flat as life in Little Falls. Despite his would-be wise-guy perceptions and underlying decency, Lamar kindlesfew sparks. National advertising; 9-city East Coast author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Lamar Carney is a 27-year-old college graduate, and though his family expected him to do something extraordinary with his life, he can't seem to work up the ambition to do so. After college he returns to his upstate New York home and rents an apartment one mile from his parents. He takes a part-time job working for his father at the local newspaper and finds an ordinary girl in town, who strongly encourages him to grow up. Ignoring her plea, Lamar takes off on a road trip with his buddy Andrew. In the process of running away, he comes to terms with being ordinary and returns home to get on with it. In his first novel, Clarke (English and creative writing, Clemson Univ.) dishes up an insightful philosophy about innocence and guilt, bravery and cowardice, substance and dramaall couched in the whining, immature voice of a spoiled brat. The writing is clever, entertaining, and sadly accurate. Recommended.Joanna M. Burkhardt, Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Univ. of Rhode Island, Providence Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A pallid first novel chronicles a year in the life of a desultory college grad, startled into taking his life seriously by a perhaps racially motivated murder. Working part-time for his father at the local newspaper in Little Falls, their small upstate New York hometown, aimless 27-year-old Lamar spends his days indifferently rewriting stories from larger papers, lazily typing up community bulletins, and intermittently grieving for his dying mother. He dates Glori, a secretary at the elementary school, but their relationship also lacks focus. Boyhood friend Andrew proposes leaving town to work as guards at the penitentiary, and at about the same time jeweler Mark Ramirez goes missing. While he paid little attention to Mark, the only Puerto Rican student when they were both in high school, Lamar does not consider himself a racist, though he acknowledges the backwardness of Little Falls. The police chief, his father's cousin, is a xenophobe with a penchant for a little brutality to keep things lively, and another relation is in jail for burning down the home of an African-American family. Lamar takes to the road to escape the ordinariness of his life, goes fishing with Andrew, and sees a migrant worker die. Cathartically changed, he resolves to become a "person of substance" after declining to help the Ramirez family solve the mystery of Mark's disappearance. He proposes marriage to Glori, who has finally tired of his personal blandness, starts working with gusto at the paper, and in some way recovers his sense of direction. After Ramirez is found to have been murdered by a white man, Lamar decides racism wasn't the problem after all. An almost charming hero and a vivid sense ofsmall-town life, but the story fails to make a true claim on the reader's attention-especially when the painstakingly elaborated racial theme dissolves at the end into vapid irrelevancy. Author tour
From the Publisher
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR ORDINARY WHITE BOY

"An extraordinary account of what passes as ordinary life in an upstate New York community. Brock Clarke treats small-town controversy with wit and sympathy, and along the way he unravels conventional measures of self-worth. A confident, fierce, and hilarious novel with great emotional richness."
—Joanna Scott, author of Arrogance and Make Believe
"This is a smart, honest, funny, winning book. Extraordinary, really."
—Antonya Nelson, author of Talking in Bed and Nobody's Girl

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156027090
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/1/1902
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.26 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Brock Clarke received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Rochester and is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Cincinnati. His books have been widely reviewed and his short-story collection What We Won't Do won the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. He lives with his wife and son in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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