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PeterDexter,theNationalBookAwardwinnerforhis1988novel, Paris Trout, is a no chapter author. His four previous novels (God’s Pocket, Deadwood, Paris Trout, Brotherly Love) and now, The Paperboy, are all rapidly unspooling texts, their scenes, long and short, broken only by the briefest gap of white space (and, in the new novel’s case, an addition of a tiny typographical decoration, a square)–just space enough tocatchyourbreathandplungeforwardintotheheadlongtale.Dexter doesn’t seem to want to give you too much time to decide whether or not to proceed. The Paperboy revisits some familiar Dexter territory and characters . Hillary Van Wetter, the novel’s baddest guy, is a descendant, spiritually, if not literally, of Paris Trout, Mr. Dexter’s best-known villain –just one more weak link down the cracker food chain. (I cannot squelch the opinion that naming him “Hillary” is some sort of not-soprivate joke on the part of Mr. Dexter, given the present occupants of the White House.) And we are in northern Florida, up near the panhandle, the spongy bottom of the South, where everything and everyone is a bit fungoid and fantastical. Though the form is the same as his earlier fictions, The Paperboy differs by being narrated by an I–Jack James, one son of the owner of Peter Dexter: The Paperboy 232 233 the “Moat County Tribune,” brother to Ward James, the father’s favorite and the novel’s catalytic character. Its first sentence is: “My brother Ward was once a famous man.” How Ward became famous, and how the Van Wetter family aids his advancement, is the center of The Paperboy. What’s around the edges is interesting, too; Dexter’s view of journalism–since he was a practicingjournalistuntilthegreatsuccessofParisTrout–hisviewson prize winning and national recognition (for it is Ward winning a PulitzerPrizethatmakeshimfamous ),aresubjectsthathoveroverthestory like the ubiquitous mosquitoes around the swamps of Moat County. Dexter’snarrator,Jack,isalateadolescentatthetimeofthenovel’s action,1969,onewhojustlosthisswimmingscholarshipattheUniversityofFlorida :“...Iwasexpelledforanactofvandalism.Specifically,I drank a small bottle of vodka and drained the swimming pool, which, while childish, is more complicated work than it may seem from the outside. I don’t want to get into the mechanics of it now, but let me assure you that you don’t just pull the plug.” This voice (sophomoric it would be called in ’69) gives The Paperboy adistinctboy’s novel tone: everything is seen froma late maleadolescent ’spointofview:slightlyleering;dopey,yetarrogant;sexaddled, butchaste;fullofcodesandstricturesofhonorablebehavior,abundant hero worship (of brother Ward). In short, Jack is a pain in the neck. Ward arrives back in Moat County on assignment from the “Miami Times,” bringing along another reporter, Yardley Acheman, and one Charlotte Bless, a bombshell of sorts. Jack’s first reaction to her: “. . . current shot through me six directions at once.” Charlotte has roundedupthetworeporterstohelpfreehernewboyfriend,thedeath rowconvictHillaryVanWetter,forbeing“railroaded”forthekillingof Sheriff Thurmond Call some four years back. Charlotte had initiated a prison correspondence with Hillary (she has an interest in killers), 234 and he has become her fiancé, though one “she had yet to meet.” Ward andYardleyquicklycommencetheirbackwoodsversionof Woodward and Bernstein. Paraphrase of The Paperboy is in some way an injustice, since the novel itself is written as paraphrase. Dexter is of the lean and mean school. His, for the most part, gripping tale is cinematic and it is expertly sketched, not elaborated upon, and when he does pause longer than a sentence or two (say, in the depiction of Jack and Ward’s father), psychological complexity does not arrive to shore up the additional facts and language. Ward and Jack’s mother had left their father some years before, “moved to California with a drama teacher from Moat County Junior College,” and hardly another word is thought about her by the abandoned male trio, past or present. The world of The Paperboy is a boy’s world, Horatio Alger’s domain–it’s the Hardy Boys, only x-rated, guns and butter. Jack tags along with Ward and Yardley–and Charlotte, for whom Jack’s current is still strongly flowing. They meet with Hillary in the state prison, after confronting his local, ineffectual, attorney to receive permission. These scenes are riveting, though the jailhouse visits are mostlysafesexencountersbetweenHillaryandthesmittenCharlotte. Hillary’s first guttural words to her capture his charm: “You look like your pitcher.” Ward and Yardley get the story, Ward being the leg man, the one who does the actual reporting; Yardley, a Miami man-about-town, is there for the writing. Dexter does seem to want to reinforce one particular cliché about journalism: that great reporting is best displayed by the...


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