When Jim Lehrer recently died, he took a piece of American excellence with him. For years he was the gifted half of the McNeil- Lehrer Report. He was thorough, honest, and respectful in his work. His co-workers’ tearful recollections told me this man was an outstanding example to all who call themselves journalists, reporters, or writers.
Somehow Lehrer also found time to write seven novels and two plays. Fortunately, our library has several of his books. I chose Short List – A One-Eyed Mack Novel. One-eyed Mack? I had to find out who, or what, was this “one-eyed Mack.”
The protagonist, “Mack – like the truck,” is good guy, firmly grounded in a realistic view of his world. While he occasionally invents outrageous adventures to account for the black patch covering his empty eye socket, the reality is as simple as a childhood accident while playing Kick the Can.
Later, as a local Commissioner, he catches the eye of Oklahoma’s Democratic Party machine, mainly because he is, of all things! effective. He soon becomes Lieutenant Governor to the bigger-than-life Governor “Buffalo” Joe Hayman.
Written in first person, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, Lehrer pokes fun at the political establishment, while keeping the story just this side of realistic (barely). When Buffalo Joe is about to give the Keynote Address to the National Democratic Convention in New York City, a nasty little blood vessel in his brain bursts. The Governor is sidelined and Mack delivers the speech instead. He does a great job, with the addition of a plea to help locate a particular mummy the Oklahoma Historical Society and Museum of the Cherokee Strip would like to display.
Having aced the speech, and topping it with the mummy plea, Mack is catapulted into the national spotlight by a comment from David Brinkley that he should be on the short list to run as the Party’s Vice President.
What follows is a lighthearted parody that eerily reflects our current primary season. Coping with dubious characters, using his authority as “Leut. Gov.,” Mack navigates treacherous waters with courage, while wielding the blunt cudgel of truth.
Lehrer takes a swipe at his own industry, along with our political machine, as he portrays the media dredging up peccadilloes from Mack’s past.
Lehrer’s writing style is “homey” and direct. One-Eyed Mack tells his story as if he were sitting across the table from you. Lehrer’s characters are moral, but with flaws; evil but with understandable vulnerabilities.
Lehrer uses enough light-hearted tension to keep the reader turning pages. I chuckled at Mack’s predicaments because they seemed too absurd to be true. Yet my daily issues of the New York Times made Mack’s situations seem plausible and possible.
Lehrer wrote from the trenches, blending humor with reality. I plan to read every Lehrer book I can find in my library.