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Ordinary White Boy by Brock Clarke
Ordinary White Boy

heymattie, November 15, 2006

Good literature has the tendency to make readers think about what is being said. It sometimes may even have more than one thought or idea fashioned into the work. Brock Clarke?s novel, The Ordinary White Boy is one that is ambiguous in nature. He has engineered a simple, seemingly uneventful story about the struggle of a young man to just be ordinary in rural upstate New York, and at the same time, he has raised some very interesting questions and introduced opinions that are quite pronounced, if not controversial.
Even from the first page, it is clear that this novel will be unusual. The narrator, who has already expressed a unique perspective about the places around him, calls himself ?completely insubstantial?. He indirectly elaborates on this comment throughout the first chapter, and actually throughout the rest of the book, mentioning his lack of ambition and motivation, and his sincere desire to be ordinary. The narrator actually goes on to say that he believes that all life is insubstantial, without meaning or substance.
A major theme that appears very early in the novel, when the narrator, Lamar Kerry Junior moves back home after finishing college with the intention of doing ?nothing? for an indefinite period of time, is that disappointment is inherent in ordinariness. This idea is expressed throughout the novel again and again as Lamar Jr. tells the story of his life around age twenty-seven. He later mockingly recounts the disappointments faced by nearly every character in the novel in Part 3, Chapter 7 of the novel, when he has run away from his ordinary life in a failed attempt to venture, to find substance in life outside of his small town existence. Contemplating his answer to the question of why he has run away, Lamar Jr. thinks, ?Oh, beautiful, sad-eyed Glori Burns, oh, disappointed Daddy and dying Mother, oh, missing Mark Ramirez and pleading Jodi Ramirez, oh dead uncles and burning houses. These are exactly the reasons I ran away, of course: because I didn?t want the responsibility of helping Jodi Ramirez and watching my mother die and seeing my father?s disappointment and identifying and maybe alleviating Glori?s unhappiness. I did not want all these people to need me. And now I know that this is exactly what I want, and why I want to go back home.? The significance of this passage to the novel is great, because it reveals that Lamar Jr. has surpassed acceptance and finally embraced his ordinariness and realized that this is what creates the substance in his life that before he did not detect. He further elaborates on this new understanding of substance at the end of Chapter 2 in Part 4 when he differentiates between people of substance and people inclined to drama. Lamar Jr. says, ?The lesson is this: There are some of us who choose drama over substance [referring to himself], and then there are some of us who do not have to choose. There are some of us who are already people of substance inclined toward substantial gestures and decisions, not inclined toward beating hasty retreats north or toward shallow emotional shortcuts.?
This lesson that Glori teaches him by (temporarily) leaving him upon his return back from his ?sabbatical? is yet another disappointment in the novel, however this time, Lamar Jr. is finally on the receiving end. In the cases of Jodi Ramirez, concerning Lamar Jr.?s promise to help her find her husband, and that of the many disappointments of his father, Lamar Sr., and of the disappointments that Lamar Jr. faces in his attempts of becoming a person of ?substance?, and many others, the narrator is the cause of disappointment. The question of why the author would include so many examples of disappointment in the novel, of failed attempts to do this or that, of apathetic endeavors not to do things that are expected or promised, and let-downs such as the death of Jodi?s former boyfriend and the eventual confirmation that Mark Ramirez?s death was not racially motivated, as had been proposed many times throughout the mystery of his disappearance, is a difficult one to answer. It is possible that all of these examples of disappointment serve the purpose to illustrate the difficulty of ordinary life, which is said outright by the narrator: ?It is difficult to be ordinary.? Or, the possibility that the questions that are left unanswered at the end of Part 4, Chapter 7, ?Is incompetence evil? Is apathy? Is ordinariness?? could be understood and answered by exploration of the many disappointments throughout the novel must be considered. In addition to the greater significance of the inclusion of many disappointments in the novel, they do serve another, very practical purpose. These small tragedies remind us, the readers, of the many disappointments that we have encountered in our own lives, reminding us that it is difficult, after all, to live even an ordinary life. They give us something to relate to in the novel, and that is, of course, one of the reasons for the realistic impression and the success of The Ordinary White Boy.
Although Brock Clarke?s novel does seem rather uneventful due to the way that something almost happens, then something else almost happens, then there are a string of disappointments, then something else almost happens, it eventually becomes evident that this is the fashioning of the book, and that there is significant meaning in this. The book should be praised for this unique architecture and also for the ?substantial? epiphanies that come as a result of the narrator?s ?ordinary? life and experiences.
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