Let's face it. There's more than one kind of dumbbell in this story. Leroy is a good ol' boy with a big ol' heart but not a whole lot going on upstairs. He's trying to figure out his wife and his life, but he only seems to see what's on the surface and has trouble getting to the deeper meaning of things. Leroy is a passive observer, and now that he's home, he's trying to pay attention to what "[h]e was always flying past" (1.6) when he was on the road. Among the things he's noticing are:
Thanks, narrator, we get the point: Leroy's pretty clueless.
He's not just in the dark when it comes to his wife or hometown, either—he feels much the same about himself. "He is not sure what to do next" (1.6) when it comes to earning a living, but he does have an emotional goal. He wants to get closer to his wife, Norma Jean, and improve their relationship, which has become emotionally hollow since their baby, Randy, died early in their marriage.
Now that "he is finally settling down with the woman he loves" (1.16), Leroy wants to
"create a new marriage, start fresh" (1.9); "know what [Norma Jean] thought—what she really thought—about them" (3.13); and "start all over again. Right back at the beginning" (7.20).
The problem is, Leroy still is back at the beginning. Like one of the moldy oldies in The Sixties Songbook Norma Jean plays from, Leroy is out of tune with the times he's living in. He's also something of a broken record, "whining and pitying, like some teenage-tragedy song" (3.15). The town is changing, his wife is changing…but Leroy? He's just spinning 'round and 'round on the turntable of life.
Unfortunately, for Leroy, his efforts to reignite the spark in his marriage are met with indifference (at best) from Norma Jean. He's eager to please her, but keeps missing the mark, as we see by her responses to his repeated attempts to interest her in the log house he wants to build for her.
Sometimes she dismisses the idea, saying things like, "They won't let you build a log cabin in any of the new subdivisions" (1.7), or she responds with irritation: "Like heck you are…you have to find a job first" (2.21). Other times, she switches things up and tells him flat out she's not interested: "I don't want to live in any log cabin" (2.33), or she just straight up ignores him: "Norma Jean doesn't answer" (2.37).
We'd think he'd get it already, right? While Norma Jean has come up with a whole list of things Leroy could do with his life, his own mental list seems to have only one thing on it—something he can neither erase nor replace with any better ideas.
His desperate longing for connection with his wife can seem absurd, even pathetic, as when "he and Norma Jean work together at the kitchen table . . . [and] Leroy has the hopeful thought that they are sharing something" (5.9). Not so fast, Leroy—even the author's words choices reveal how much distance exists between them when they are in the same place. Norma Jean is "concentrating" (5.9) while Leroy "plays" (5.9).
It's easy to see how Norma Jean would feel impatient and irritated with a husband who doesn't contribute his fair share neither inside nor outside the home and leaves her to do all the heavy lifting, so to speak. But because the narrative point of view allows us to be more aware of Leroy's feelings than Norma Jean's, we can't help but feel bad for him.
Leroy isn't a bad guy. He means well, and in his own, misguided way he's trying to be a good husband and son-in-law, but he comes across as something of a loser with a bad case of arrested development. It's no wonder Norma Jean and Mabel are exasperated with him, hitchhikers find him boring, and even his drug dealer is impatient to get away from him. Yet, he's loyal and affectionate. He may not be the husband of Norma Jean's dreams, but he'd sure be one heck of a Golden Retriever.