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Picks and Pans Review: The Natural Man

updated 05/02/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/02/1983 01:00AM

by Ed McClanahan

A young history teacher recalls growing up in a small Kentucky town in this bright, laugh-aloud novel that is a joy from start to finish. The town's tedium had been relieved when his high school's principal-coach adopted a gigantic, apelike orphan in hopes of turning the pitiful basketball team into a winner. As a boy, the teacher was fascinated by this orphan who, at 15, was a masterly pool player and casual consumer of cigarettes and booze. He had an incredibly foul mouth—every utterance is a dirty joke, a mean threat or something worse. When the crucial moment came, however, this bigger-than-life "natural man" made a difficult—but upright—decision. For sheer reading pleasure, this bawdy, rollicking story is the season's best comic novel so far. In reflecting on the novel, McClanahan has the teacher say, "When you come to think about it, real life largely consists of things that never make the papers." This book is about those very things. At the end, when the narrator returns to the town many years later and finds the movie house where he sold tickets and popcorn has fallen into ruins, he also learns that the natural man has left behind a perfect surprise. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $11.95)

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