The effect of reading Ed McClanahan's new collection, O the Clear Moment, is not unlike listening to a cheerfully erudite, slightly drunken old man reminiscing about his seemingly average life—a life that becomes, in the generosity and intelligence of the telling, something more than average. Formally meticulous and thematically irreverent, O the Clear Moment is a loose collection of autobiographical pieces in which McClanahan reflects on an idyllic childhood in small-town Kentucky, chronicles the successes and humiliations of high school, and opens a few small but well-placed windows onto his adult eccentricities. McClanahan's skills as a humorist are predicated on a deep respect for language, and the book's best moments come when McClanahan indulges in the rhetorical flourishes that make his lowbrow subject matter all the funnier.
Take this parenthetical aside, for example, when recalling a youthful dalliance: He describes, with a gentleman's discretion, a point in his life at which he "tended to fall in love rather easily" (o, the clear euphemism!), and one of the objects of his affection was a "dark-eyed senorita by the name of Marta in Juarez... (who, I was to discover a few days later, had presented me with a small but rapidly multiplying family of tiny migrant stowaways)." Literary descriptions of acquiring crabs don't get any more elegant.
One of the more poignant works in the collection is about McClanahan's foray into songwriting: What begins as a self-deprecating and free-wheeling account of a song composed on a car radio-less road trip ("Drowning in the Land of Sky-Blue Waters," about a Hamm's Beer sign), ends with an anecdote about a song McClanahan and his young daughter wrote in honor of close friend Ken Kesey, which McClanahan would perform years later on a Merry Pranksters bookstore tour memorializing Kesey. And if McClanahan is to be believed, the story was written with "but one ambition, which is to provide a vehicle that will allow me, when my vast audience clamors for me to read my work in public, to inflict upon them—be warned—the only three songs I've ever written...." So clamor away, Powell's audience, and maybe he'll treat you to a song.