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The Average Human

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Ellen Toby-Potter’s premier novel, The Average Human, is a tale that seems as much gothic as Faulkneresque. The novel takes place not in the south but in the town of Loomis, New York. The primary curse of the town is the Mayborns, a family of lowlifes that has inbred over the decades to the point where all the daughters have fingernails that are black and wrinkled. Into this family comes Lee Utter, a sixteen-year-old girl that has returned to Loomis with her mother to attend the funeral of Joseph, their former cult leader from many years ago. After her mother is imprisoned for kidnapping another woman’s son, Lee is forced to live with the Mayborn family and quickly realizes why her own fingernails are black: she is also a Mayborn.

Weirdness abounds throughout the novel, but it is not the kind that is endearing. June, the Mayborn’s daughter, controls her seizure attacks by lighting fires and smelling the fumes; most disturbing, their son Frank initiates an incestuous relationship with Lee. Even though Lee learns that she is the daughter of a family of inbreeds she does not come across as one—she is intelligent, has been accepted at Cornell University and has a book on physics with her because she loves the way physics explains the world around her. Physics is reality pinpointed down to an exact calculation; Lee’s life, for the most part, is far from exact and she desperately wants a chance to escape to something better.

The fact that Lee quickly gives up trying to leave the madness of Loomis behind her, as she did once before, is disappointing. Only June seems to escape everything; whether it is worth it or not is up to the reader to decide.