Brock Clarke has written a number of books that I like. He has two collections of short stories that stop short of glowing in the dark (though I have seen my copy of Carrying the Torch shimmer in the dusk, as if it objects to the setting sun). I think that the natural trajectory for a lot of fiction writers is to move from writing short stories to writing novels, but short stories are fast becoming the new poetry. That is, revered only by the intellectual elite of the literati. I hope that Clarke is writing novels because he is an artist, not in order to sell more books, but if he writes novels for the latter reason, I still like him.
His novel, The Ordinary White Boy even pleased my dad who is (shamefully) a Rush Limbaugh fan. I offer this as proof of a type of Clarke’s brilliance, but I realize as I do that a Rush Limbaugh fan would never be considered to be a paragon of good taste, eh? No matter. The point is that my pop is not as much for literature as he is for wrongheaded political rhetoric. And his (admittedly minor) affection for The Ordinary White Boy is a true testament to Clarke’s storytelling.
The thing I admire most about him is his eerie ability to make me like, no love, fictional characters who I would strongly dislike if I met them in person. The heroes from both White Boy and Arsonist are utter boobs, useful only in their uselessness and the entertainment and foibles it affords the readers. But I understand both men deeply and have an odd impulse to nuzzle their pathetic, fictional noggins between my breasts and worry their poor, worthless scalps with my maternal palm.
The one before the one I’m reading now, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England, stopped being my favorite book of all time only recently when it was replaced by Everything Matters!, which you can read all about here. And here.
But Exley, though not yet in the running to usurp Everything Matters!, I can tell already, less than a third of the way in, is going to offer me another one of these loathesome/lovable anti heroes. And I do not mean antihero in the video game sense: a bad person who has a good mission, I mean it in the sense that Clarke’s heroes offer nothing that could be perceived as traditionally heroic. They are normal, pulpy white people with a general lack of scruples. They are compulsively self-interested, bad to women, lazy. Still. Clarke knows and loves them, and he makes me do the same.
Now. Reading fiction is good for you. It fortifies your mind, your soul, your thinking muscles. If you are not such a reader, please do some of it. If you are here, reading my blog, you are reading, and that is good. If this (and things like it) is the only thing you read, go pick up a copy of The Ordinary White Boy. It’s been out for about 7 years or so, so it could be procured cheaply on Amazon or you could borrow it for free from the library. I you don’t like The Ordinary White Boy, I do not judge you. But there will be a book you will like.
And please don’t say you’re somebody who can’t stop reading a book once you start it. That is just silly, and is an excuse not to sample books. Books, like wine, beer, and cheese, are for sampling. And like Miller Light is not for everybody, neither is Franziskaner, so get yourself some reading you like. An eReader, a paperback, a hardback, or a magazine.
Subscribe to a magazine or literary journal. I recently added some links to my Links page in two categories: authors I like, and stuff I’m into reading. Most of the stuff under “stuff I’m into reading” is stuff to which I do now subscribe or will soon. These are some recommendations, but there’s a big wide world of recommendations out there. Go search by subject in your library’s card catalog (it’s much easier now that they’ve done away with those apothecary drawers), and get yourself a book. Read it.