Those who’ve known journalist Jim Lehrer mostly as the low-key, sober-sided,
longtime host/moderator of the PBS News Hour may be surprised - as I was
- at the extent of his diverse literary output, including 18 novels. This one is eighth in a series based on the character “One-Eyed Mack,” mild-mannered and straight-arrow lieutenant governor of Oklahoma who is, to his misfortune, harnessed to the loutish governor, “Buffalo Joe” Hayman.
Though one-eyed due to a childhood accident, Mack is more than able to see past the Guv’s preposterous facade to the true (and potentially mischief-making) foolishness within.
Hayman, it seems, suffers from chronic “foot in mouth” syndrome which strikes while he’s a guest on a right-wing talk radio show and in the grip of a particularly severe case of “motor mouth mania.” In the confluence of the rabid atmosphere within the studio and an onset of his personality afflictions, “Buffalo Joe” off-handedly blurts out his intent of privatizing most of the state’s offices, functions, and services. Of course, this pronouncement of a pending bureaucracy-free Oklahoma is catnip to Sooners sharing Ronald Reagan’s animus toward “big guv’ment.”
Finding the concept shaky, to say the least, Mack sets out to get the governor’s gaffe quashed even as he finds himself suffering through a
harrowing freak medical dilemma. With help from his shrewd, smart, and devoted wife Jackie, a successful
self-made entrepreneur with a purse full of state-of-the-art communication devices
(plus a private a helicopter always at the ready), Mack manages to extricate Oklahomans from what real-life neo-cons have long viewed as nirvana: virtual non-governance.
Mack to the Rescue has its charms as a quick, pleasant read – within the category some consider “on-the-beach” or “airport-waiting-time” diversions. There’s nothing damning in different reads for different moods, motivations, and situations, yet reader disappointment can kick in at signs that a series may have gone stale, run out of steam. Clues to a series gone limp include a book’s seeming “tossed off,” too formulaic, or simply lacking a plot with sufficient enlivening pizzazz. Perhaps, too, at this particular time Lehrer’s core plot material -
comic-opera politicians, talk radio blowhards, and crass-to-the-max power players – can’t help but seem pale in comparison to the gaudy reality that was our long, long immersion in the 2008 presidential election. The book appears, too, to be mis-categorized
- not a “mystery” as it’s described, nor a “satire.” The humor is more of the droll, sly-pokes-in-the-rib variety, as in Mack’s recollection of an apparently pivotal, pre-pubescent moment:
“Mr. Eisenhower had played a small but important part in my life. At a YMCA camp outside Chanute when I was twelve a counselor was able to put aside some serious fears of perversion for me and my seven cabin mates. He said wet dreams were completely natural. All males had them, he said. And that included even people like Roy Rogers and Dwight David Eisenhower.”
Mack to the Rescue is part of a University of Oklahoma Press project called “Oklahoma Stories & Storytellers.” Lehrer, born in Kansas, surely benefits as a contributing author from a bred-in-the-bone knowledge and appreciation of his fellow heartlanders – geography, speech patterns, folkways. Should he again contribute, I would hope for greater heft to the plot, sharper honing of the humor, and added energy enlivening the whole.