The Natural Man (Magill's Literary Annual 1984)
The Natural Man, Ed McClanahan’s first novel, is a comic triumph satirizing the narrowness of small-town life (“City of Needmore, population 6 7/8 when they’re all at home”) and showing the quest of the human spirit to transcend this narrowness. Told in the third person, the story concerns Harry Eastep, an adolescent taken from the relative glamor of Dayton, Ohio, and transplanted to the small Kentucky town of Needmore, and Monk McHorning, an orphan adopted by Needmore’s high school principal to help the failing basketball team. Through Harry’s consciousness, the reader sees Monk, who has “the dirtiest mind and the dirtiest mouth of any man or boy in the entire recorded history of Burdock County” but who also, like Huck Finn, finally refuses to be controlled by corrupt social forces.
At first glance, these boys seem perfect foils for each other. Harry arrives in Needmore “Bookish and plumpish and standoffish, shy as a newt behind his pink-rimmed spectacles.” As he matures and begins taking an interest in sex, he imagines how his tentative gropings with one of the cheerleaders can become “an amusing little episode” in his memoirs. Monk, on the other hand, needs tutoring just to stay in school; at the suggestion of the school’s corrupt principal, Harry writes Monk’s English themes. Monk is hardly retiring; within minutes of his arrival, he is showing a group of boys his obscene tattoo.
(The entire section is 2142 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1984)
Antioch Review. XLI, Fall, 1983, p. 502.
Booklist. LXXIX, April 15, 1983, p. 1077.
Harper’s. CCLXI, May, 1983, p. 90.
Library Journal. CVIII, March 15, 1983, p. 602.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. March 23, 1983, p. 14.
The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVIII, April 24, 1983, p. 3.
Newsweek. CI, May 23, 1983, p. 77.
Publishers Weekly, CCXXIII, January 28, 1983, p. 72.
West Coast Review of Books. IX, May, 1983, p. 45.
(The entire section is 52 words.)