College-educated Lamar -- the ordinary white boy in Brock Clarke's vaguely charming new novel -- returns to his hometown of Little Falls, in upstate New York, where what seems to be a racially motivated murder takes place and the townsfolk couldn't care less.Lamar, working part-time at the local newspaper run by his father, is sent to investigate, but he ends up doing little of that. Instead, he tags along while the police bumble through the motions and uncover nothing.
Clarke's writing is warm and quirky enough to keep readers feeling like they're getting a window into another world. Thing is, it's a little hard to see what's so ordinary about him.
His uncle's the sheriff, and his tough-as-nails mother's slowly dying from MS. He himself is overflowing with emotions directed at the people around him. In the process, he makes a few interesting observations about the social dynamics among people in small-town USA.
But every plot twist seems to shed light on nothing but Lamar's own self-discovery. He spends all his time thinking about racism, squirming out of his responsibilities to the people who love him and then regretting it and wondering why he's stuck in a quagmire of apathy. Does the world need another self-obsessed male character who never manages to screw up the courage to take a stand?
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The Ordinary White Boy by Brock Clarke (Harcourt), 257 pages, $38 cloth. Rating: NN