Foppish FictionnEd McClanahan: The Natural Man;nFarrar, Straus & Giroux; New York.nTodd McEwen: Fisher’s Hornpipe;nHarper & Row; New York.nKelly Cherry: In the ‘Wink of an Eye;nHarcourt Brace Jovanovich; SannDiego.nby Robert F. GearynWhat is wrong with contemporarynfiction? A reading of this trio of comicnnovels brings to mind a couple of thenmany diagnoses. Some years back LionelnTrilling warned that political abstractionsncould cut the imagination off from thenrich complexities of life—^from a visionnof the mixed nature of human motivationnand the often ironical, even tragic,nnature of consequences. More recendy,na portion of blame has Men upon then”creative writing” industry, from collegencourses to writers’ workshops whereinnsuccessfiil names inculcate the &miliarnsubjects, attitudes, and recipes to worshipfiilnapprentices. As a result, the smugnoudook on the world prevalent in academiancan come to generate fiction thatnis increasingly imitative, inlatuated withntechnique for its own sake, and markednby a narrow, thin range of characters andnpseudoinsights. Such fiction might findnitself well received by the self-consciouslynliterary portion of the reading public,nmany of whom appear to be withdrawingnever fiarther into a dream world where,nfor instance, wishing loudly for “peace”nwill make peace a reality.nCertainly something (though notneverything) is wrong with current fiction,nat least if we can judge from thenevidence of these three slender novels,neach of which bids for a few hours of anreader’s time and, with prices betweenn11 and 16 dollars, more than a litde ofnDr. Geary is English department headnat James Madison University.n8nChronicles of Culturenhis money. One book is a successfiil comedy,nanother an engaging but mixed effort,na third worthless. On balance,nthough, one can see why many less sophisticatednreaders look to the paperbacknracks for amusement if not edification:nnone of these works manages to engagencontemporary reality in a genuinely convincingnfashion—and two of them decidedlyntry.nEd McClanahan’s The Natural Man isnby &r the best of the group. Perhaps bynsetting the novel sufiiclendy far in thenpast—in tiny Needmore, Kenmdcy, afternWorld War II—^McClanahan can escapendoctrinaire poses and capture a richnessnabout people and place in a genuinelynfunny book about the half year in the lifenof Harry Eastep when, turning 16, henachieved manhood, though not in thenway he expected. In finely turned, lucid,nand economical prose, McClanahan dealsnlighdy but keenly with adolescence, thenneed for roots, the importance of continuity,nand, lastiy, the meaning of adulthood.nFor a first novel. The Natural Mannhas a sureness about its prose and characterizationnthat lets the author gracefiillynreveal surprising depths in the mostncomical of characters without ever violatingntheir fictional consistency or dienbook’s tone. The reader, like young HarrynEastep, ends the summer’s string ofnraucous teenage pranks quietiy astonishednto find that an unexpected wisdomnhas come to him amid the high jinks.nThe agent of Harry’s coming of age isnthe formidable “Monk’ McHoming whonarrives in sleepy Needmore one summernafternoon possessed only of a batterednsuitcase, a worse reputation, andnextensive endowments of brute strengthnand low cunning. An “orphant boy,” asnthe locals say, McHorning has beennadopted by the high school basketballncoach for the simple, venal purpose ofnending the Burdock County Bulldogs’nyears of defeats by every team except anschool for the deaf Six-five and pathologicallynferocious, McHoming seemsnnnthe “natural man” to change all that Andnwith his Camels, condoms, and endlessnribald jokes, he appears equally suited tonguide young Harry out of unwanted virginitynand, in time, out of hickish Needmoren(the limitations of which Harry’snearly years in comparatively cosmopolitannDayton, Ohio, have made clear). Inspirednby lust and McHoming, Harrynplans the seduction of the daughter ofnthe ovwier of the movie house where henworks. Events seem to fell in with his designsnwhen one Philander C. Rexroat,nDoctor of Sexuality (a man before hisntime!) books the theater for a one-nightncmsade on behalf, allegedly, of sexualnhygiene. Harry, with his newly acquiredndriver’s permit, discerns his chance tontake advantage of the presumably arousednhefty young woman and slip away withnher during the second showing of thendoctor’s “educational” film.n1 he night of the gin-besotted Doctor’snpathetic and hilarious presentation, Harryndoes indeed become a man. But suddenlynwe find ourselves asking what it means,nafter all, to become a man, to be an adult.n’What, really, is a natural man? “Art is man’snnature,” said Edmund Buite two centuriesnago in rebuke of the levelers, constimtionmongers,nand pseudoprimitives whonwould destroy the civilizing processesnin quest of an illusory paradise of socialnand instincmal democracy. McClanahan’snnovel, in its own way, embodies this insight.nMonk McHoming’s glandularnprowess is and is not what it means to bena natural man. Human nature is physicalnand instinctual in part (and the book enjoysnthat dimension). But it is also more.nTo establish continuities with the pastn(in the form of bonds with one’s elders),nto learn to love a particular place andnpeople (the “little platoon” of whichnBurke spoke) as Harry learns to lovenNeedmore, and to develop and live by ancode of decency—^these also are natural,nnot in the sense that they are instinctualngivens but in the sense that to strive forn