KICK THE CAN; Jim Lehrer; Putman; 253 pages; $17.95.
Jim Lehrer is best known as a television news anchorman.But he also is a novelist, and a very good one as "Kick the Can" demonstrates. It's a picaresque novel, well-written and fun to read. Best of all, the story line is straightforward and sees no need to make unnecessary stops along the way for a little gratuitous sex and violence - a sin that plagues so many contemporary novels.
The book opens in 1949. World War II is over but the Korean War isn't far in the future. The narrator calls himself The One-Eyed Mack. Mack's a shade shy of 20. He's a Kansas boy who lost his left eye when he was 16. Some kids were playing kick the can, a hard kick sent the can crashing into Mack's eye and "I had lost my left eye forever."
Restless, eager to see new places, Mack determines to be a pirate and, carrying a small bankroll he has saved up, he hops a train to Galveston, Texas.
Enroute, Mack meets an odoriferous youth named Tom "Bell Pepper" Owen. Not much older than Mack but a good deal wiser to the ways of the world, Pepper soon tells Mack that the reason he smells so foul is that he can't take a bath. It seems Pepper is a burglar and it would be bad luck for him to bathe before committing another burglary.
The two embark on, for the reader, a laugh-filled journey in which they have many adventures. One of them includes stealing a bus.
Mack and Pepper settle down in Oklahoma, with Pepper planning to get elected lieutenant governor in order to pardon his father who is serving a jail term. But fate intervenes in the form of the Korean War. Pepper joins the Marines and goes to war. Mack stays in Oklahoma. Their adventures have ended but they were great fun while they lasted. - By Phil Thomas (AP Book Editor).